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VI B RARY 

OF THE 

UNIVERSITY 



*JL mkt. sum* 




/ 

^(ju4^Ul/u^ lit 





LORAIN BEEBE LYNDS 

Kankakee County's First School Teacher and Postmistress, 
Who Lived to the Great Age of Ninety-Three. 



Tales of 

An Old "Border Town" 

AND 

Along The Kankakee 

A Collection of Historical Facts and Intimate Per- 
sonal Sketches of the Days of the Pioneers in 
Momence, Illinois, and the Hunting 
Grounds of the Kankakee 
Marsh and "Bogus 
Island" 



BY 

BURT E. BURROUGHS 

Author of Legends and Tales of Homeland on the Kankakee, 
California Letters, Etc. 



FOWLER, INDIANA 
THE BENTON REVIEW SHOP 



Copyrighted, 1925, 

BURT E. BURROUGHS 

Kankakee, Illinois. 



PREFACE 

To Noel Le Vasseur is accorded the honor of being the 
first white settler within the borders of Kankakee county 
as we know it today'. He built his cabin of logs inj the tim- 
ber known as "LaPointe," or Bourbonnais, in the year 
1832. In 1833, William Lacy built a log cabin on a ford 
of the Kankakee ten miles west of the Indiana state-line 
which was known later as "Upper Crossing," or Westport. 
A year later Asher Sargeant creaked up to the Kankakee 
with his ox-drawn wagon and built the first habitation on 
the present site of Momence, a mile west of where Lacy 
settled. These three settlements of 1832, 1833 and 1834, 
just one year apart, have had variously checkered careers. 
In the end, however, Momence outstripped them all. "Upper 
Crossing," today, is but a memory. It has faded completely 
from the face of the earth. Not so with Bourbonnais. It 
is a bright, clean, contented little ville that neither gains 
nor loses appreciably but is content to hold its own in these 
day's of turmoil and strife. 

Momence of the old border days was a regular he- 
man's town. Situated on the river and on the edge of that 
vast marsh paradise of nearby Indiana, it was for years a 
sort of capital for the country roundabout, the focal point 
towards which the thoughts and steps of the wilderness 
population often turned. Here supplies of powder and shot 
were to be had and here, also, a fellow with a "thirst" 
could deluge the inner man to his heart's content with no 
one to say him nay, so long as he had a raccoon or mink 
pelt left to pay for it. If, in the full and complete enjoy- 
ment of- his debauch, he elected to stow himself in a corner 
on the puncheon floor and sleep it off, that was his busi- 
ness. If he chose to run amuck that, also, was his privi- 
lege. There were no "stop and go" signs, no village mar- 
shal looming behind a "tin" star, no law except the law of 
force. It was the day of the "border." 

Writing of these things in this day is no easy' task. We 
realize with regret that it was undertaken too late to do 
full justice to the life story of a border settlement that 



has, after many vicissitudes, emerged into a well ordered 
city. Her pioneers sleep today hard by the scene of their 
former endeavors, but their voices are stilled./ They* left no 
written records, in the main, and of the things they said and 
the things they did we collect but fragments in this day 
and count ourselves fortunate. In this volume we have in- 
corporated historical fact together with legend, incident and 
story of the old days which are likely to prove most val- 
uable, in their narrative setting, to the reading public. The 
reader is forewarned that this little volume is not designed 
as a compendium of local history, exactly. Rather would we 
have it remembered for its narratives of a day and its 
people long since passed on — a day when the middle west- 
ern empire (which included the beautiful valley of the Kan- 
kakee) was in the making — an empire peopled by "home- 
spun" giants, who deserve, at least, as a reward of hav- 
ing lived, the poor boon of remembrance. 

BURT E. BURROUGHS. 

Kankakee Illinois, September 1, 1925. 



APPRECIATIONS 

Were it not that people, in the main, are friendly, kind- 
ly, responsive in a marked degree to the importunities of 
the seeker after stories and factai of the great Pioneer Age, 
of the Kankakee Valley, a volume such as this would be well- 
nigh impossible. I have learned something of the friendly 
quality of Kankakee county folk in the last two years and a 
half and, let me add, this also applies to those portions of 
Newton and Lake counties in Indiana, wherein is located the 
basin of the Kankakee which we know as the "Kankakee 
Marsh" and "Beaver Lake." From the humblest dweller of the 
marsh on up through the varying human strata wherein is 
represented the busy man and the idler, the man of afflu- 
ence and the man of small affairs — all have listened to the 
appeal for some fact of interest concerning the old days of 
our fathers and mothers and responded as they* were able, 
willingly and gladly. If this volume should be found to con- 
tain data and incidents out of the ordinary, it is' attributal, 
in large part, to that spirit on the part of the people Which 
seeks to be obliging. 

Mr. C. M. C. Buntain, of Kankakee, has permitted me 
to use sketches of the late W. W. Parish and the pioneer, 
Cornelius Cane, prepared by him years ago, while the facts 
were readily obtainable. He has gathered together many in- 
teresting and valuable documents, in the course of the years, 
and these he tendered the writer to make use of in any way 
he saw fit. The handbill gotten out by Dr. Todd in 1844 ad- 
vertising for sale certain Indian lands and the town lots of 
Momence, is an especially prized relic of Mr. Buntain's which 
is reproduced in half-tone. 

Mr. Fred Nichols, of Momence, has been indefatigable 
in his efforts to put the writer in the way of obtaining 
that data of old days in and about Momence which was most 
valuable and worth while. With his machine and with 
Clarence Nichols at the wheel, every nook and corner of the 
old Beaver Lake Basin has been visited, turned wrong-side 
out and thoroughly scrutinized. Mr. Nichols has been a host 
in himself. 



Hon. Clark Brown, of Union, Missouri, Representative in 
the Missouri legislature, a former Momence man by the 
way, has earned my everlasting- gratitude by his unqualified 
approval of a previous volume and by his timely' help in the 
present one. "The Last Encampment of the Indians," is from 
the pen of Mr. Brown, in response to a request for something 
with the touch of the wilderness in it. It is a valuable contri- 
bution to the early-day lore of Kankakee county. 

O. M. Harlan, of the Press-Reporter, has shown a keen 
and helpful interest, and has supplied data not otherwise 
obtainable. Mrs. Orra Allen has supplied the details of 
"Chief White Foot's Home-Coming," a most interesting story. 
Mrs. Nutt, Mrs. Alzada Hopper, of Momence, and Mr. A. B. 
Jenkins, of Morocco, Indiana, together with the patriarchal 
Austin Dexter, furnished the details for the story of "Old 
Shafer," a character of swamp days whose very name spelled 
terror for the settlers. Mr. Jenkins, especially, has put me in 
the way cf many interesting things. He is a gentleman most 
agreeable and entertaining. 

Data concerning Beaver Lake in the days when the hunt- 
ers sought it, was obtained through Judge W. A. Hunter, of 
Kankakee, Mr. Victor Brassard, of Momence, Mr. Andy 
Granger, of DeMotte, Indiana, A. L. Barker, Mr. Lawbaugh. 
Joseph Kite, Mr. Nichols, of Lake Village, Indiana, and Mr. 
A. B. Jenkins, of Morocco, Indiana. 

Others who have given valuable aid in one way or an- 
other are: Mr. Frank Hamilton, Mr. James Kirby, Mrs. Su- 
san Cook, Mrs. J. H. Freeman, of Momence, Mrs. Lyons, of 
Sherburnville, E. D. Blakely', Mr. F. 0. Chapman and Chas. 
Sherman, of Kankakee. 

BURT E. BURROUGHS. 



viii 



CONTENTS 

INTRODUCTION 

THE "UPPER CROSSING" OF THE KANKAKEE... 15 

NAMING OF MOMENCE 36 

PASSING OF "OLD TRAPPER DAN" 49 

"UNCLE BILLY" NICHOLS COLLECTS FOR A HAM 54 

"THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT" 58 

HOSS RACING DAYS IN OLD MOMENCE 64 

LAST ENCAMPMENT OF THE INDIANS 74 

MOMENCE INCORPORATES 78 

AN ANCIENT HUNTING GROUND 

I — The Kankakee from Momence to the State-Line. . 88 
II — Up-River in Indiana — Gurdon S. Hubbard — Lyon's 

Lane 97 

III — Old Hunting Days in the Kankakee Marsh .... 104 
IV — The Black Marsh — Nesting Grounds — The Cranes 

— Beaver Lake Reclaimed 118 

V— Story of an Old Marsh Rat 131 

FAMOUS "BOGUS ISLAND" 138 

"OLD SHAFER" OF THE BLACK MARSH 154 

JOHN HADDON MAKES A KILLING 179 

"WHITE FOOT" VISITS HIS BIRTHPLACE 183 

REMINISCENCES OF W. W. PARISH, SR 186 

THE OLD LOG HOUSE 195 

MEMORIES OF THE OLD HILL BRIDGE 197 

THE "GOLL DUMMED" RAILROAD 201 

SELLING A COON TRACK 203 

UNCLE MARK ATHERTON AND THE TRAPPERS.. 205 

"NIGGER DOC" 209 

ix 



JOE BARBEE, OF INDIAN GARDEN 212 

A PLAGUE OP FROGS 217 

MAFFETT TELLS A "TALL ONE" 223 

THE ELDERS' CLUB . . .; .227 

CHARLES MAFFETT'S WOODEN STOVE ......... 233 

KANKAKEE COUNTY'S FIRST SCHOOL TEACHER 238 

TWO PIONEER CRONIES . . . ....... 247 

AROMA TOWNSHIP'S "BEST MAN" . 251 

"GOOD OLD ELDER BURR" 259 

THE OLD HILL TAVERN 272 

AN IMPROMPTU DOUBLE WEDDING 284 

THE RIVER NAVIGATION PROJECT 294 

THE CATHEDRAL OF THE PRAIRIE 304 



INTRODUCTION 

MOMENCE OF THE OLD FRONTIER 

Momence is an old town — the oldest, per- 
haps, in north-eastern Illinois bordering on 
the Illinois-Indiana state-line. She has enter- 
ed upon the final decade which, on its com- 
pletion in 1934, will round out one hundred 
years of existence, speaking by and large. 
For years it was merely a river settlement 
without a name, a sort of rallying point for 
the picturesque southern pioneer hunter, the 
coureur de bois and voyageur, the Hoosier 
from the Wabash, and the hard-headed Yan- 
kee from Vermont, New Hampshire and New 
York, whom kindly fortune directed by way 
of shadowy, indistinct trails to the banks of 
the Kankakee, in their quest of "wood, water 
and grass." This spot where the pioneers 
foregathered is rich in stirring tales of the 
border. Momence, in her old frontier days, 
reflected in a marked degree those elemental 
traits so characteristic of border life. The 
term, "elemental traits," as applied to the 
few families who constituted the popula- 
tion of the. old river settlement of the Kan- 
kakee ninety years ago and better is relied 
upon to convey to the reader an idea of the 



2 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

hardihood, self-reliance and independence that 
possessed them. In that early day there was 
an absence of repressive measures, no super- 
imposed law except that unwritten law of the 
border which held a man's property inviolate. 
A man who stole another's horse in that day 
knew that he risked his neck. The penalty 
was death — sure, swift, certain death— once 
he fell within the clutches of the one who had 
suffered the loss. The settlement and later 
the town, after it had emerged from this prim- 
itive chrysalis, was for years a reflex of this 
expansive, unrestricted spirit of the pioneer. 
Naturally, it was, betimes, an easy-going, 
wide-open, red-hot, go-as-you-please sort of 
burg with as varied and nondescript a lot of 
dwellers, regular and transient, as ever called 
for whiskey over anybody's bar, or bet their 
money on a hand of poker or a horse race, or 
settled their differences man to man with the 
bare fists. 

Momence is the one town on the river 
that really has a frontier history. Here, in 
the long ago, where the prairie trails con- 
verged to the fords of the Kankakee, ten or 
a dozen families were attracted, among them 
the Lacys, the VanKirks, the Hills, the Nich- 
ols, the Grahams, the Hayhursts, the Dickeys, 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



the Dutchers, the Buffingtons, in the main 
representative pioneer stock from Indiana 
with antecedents harking back to Kentucky, 
Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas. These 
families settled mainly in the near vicinity 
of the "Upper Crossing." Nearer the settle- 
ment of Momence, a mile away, a stream of 
eastern people settled. Asher Sargeant was 
the first to settle there in 1834. In 1835 came 
his brother, Enoch and a man by the name of 
McKibben; in 1836 came A. S. Vail, Judge Or- 
son Beebe and Newell Beebe; in 1838 came 
Daniel Beebe, Caleb Wells and Col. Lyman 
Worcester; in 1839 came Walter B. Hess, A. 
B. Parish and Dr. Mazuzan ; in 1840 came W. 
W. Parish, Benjamin Lamport and James 
Nichols ; in 1841 came Dr. David Lynds, James 
M. Perry, David Perry and Philip Worcester, 
and others. After the lapse of three-quar- 
ters of a century, representatives of most of 
these early-day pioneer families still walk the 
streets of the old town and are identified with 
the social and business life of the community. 
In 1849, after the bridge had gone out for 
the second time, "Westport," or "Lorain," as 
the "Upper Crossing" was variously termed, 
gave up trying to be a town and gradually 
added her forces to the struggling backwoods 



4 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

settlement of Momence. So, you see, Momence, 
as residuary legatee of "Lorain" and her en- 
virons) thus falls heir to her traditions, leg- 
ends and historical lore, and may reasonably 
lay claim to one hundred years of stirring 
history. 

The Indian was still here when Dr. Todd 
platted the town. Clad in his blanket, un- 
touched by the civilization about him, he puz- 
zled over the queer actions of the transit man 
and he who carried the chain and established 
a multitude of corners by driving stakes here 
and there. Vaguely he understood that this 
mysterious process was a mere preliminary to 
the placing of the white man's tepee. Civil- 
ization was knocking at the door of the red- 
man's domain at last. 

The trapper and hunter, the voyageur 
and coureur de bois, vigorous, hardy, pictur- 
esque in his wilderness attire of skins and 
bright tasseled cap, found a paradise in the 
upper reaches of the Kankakee, and a game 
sanctuary in the vast marsh region of near- 
by Indiana, which thrilled his soul with sav- 
age delight. The squatter and the idler rear- 
ed his abode of logs by the river's side where 
ever fancy dictated, untroubled by any 
thought of "meets and bounds," or prior 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



claims. In that early day the universe was 
his. Here he existed in luxurious idleness 
surrounded >by that plenty which only the 
wilderness bestows, and thanked God and his 
lucky stars (if he gave thanks at all), for a 
situation so charming and soul-satisfying. 

During the forties and the fifties, par- 
ticularly during the fall season and early win- 
ter, the hosts of freighters from the Wabash 
country going to Chicago and back again, 
made Momence their rendezvous. Mr. W. W. 
Parish recalls that it was no unusual thing to 
find as many as one hundred to two hundred 
teams and wagons disposed along the river 
at night in camps, while the men, for the 
most part, filled the saloons and public plac- 
es of the little settlement and drank and play- 
ed cards or engaged in conversation as the 
mood suited. These gatherings represented 
typical pioneer types. There was the man of 
the woods, the man of the river, the man of 
the prairie, every man of them a red-blood- 
ed individual whom stern necessity and wild- 
erness training had endowed with the qual- 
ity of looking out for himself anywhere and 
under any circumstances. Life, for such as 
these, was a constant hand-to-hand struggle 
with the elements and hardships an unvary- 



6 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ing item in the daily round of experiences. 
Such were the diverse elements that, constitu- 
ted, in a large measure, the frontier society 
of that day, and on their visits to the settle- 
ment they mingled and jostled and touched 
elbows in a neighborly, friendly way — the 
good, the bad, the shiftless and indifferent — in 
their common meeting place, the saloon or the 
backwoods grocery, which served quite as 
well as the saloon if one merely wanted a 
drink of liquor. The frontier grocery was 
the forum wherein Democracy thrived in the 
days when the nation was in the making. 

To this rather unpromising composite of 
frontier types thus thrown together by chance 
was added in numbers wholly disproportionate 
to the sum of Momence's population, thieves 
of high and low degree, counterfeiters, horse 
thieves and cattle rustlers, who trickled down 
stream from that impregnable retreat of "Bo- 
gus Island," situated in the great "Kanka- 
kee Marshes" over the line in Indiana, only 
fifteen miles away. Eighty years ago, it 
should be remembered, an organization of 
desperate men, known as the "Prairie Ban- 
ditti," operated in the Mississippi Basin. Chief- 
ly their efforts were devoted to stealing horses 
and making and circulating counterfeit 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



money. They operated from headquarters lo- 
cated in some naturally secluded and inaccessi- 
ble spot adjacent to the Mississippi river, safe 
from prying eyes and easily defended. Nauvoo 
City, of the Mormons, was a favored refuge 
for certain of the Prairie Banditti for years. 
Notorious "Dave Redden" had a "run-in" on 
the river below Davenport, Iowa, where the 
thief or murderer, hard pressed by the officers 
of justice, might rest secure from detection. 
This place was known by the suggestive title 
of "Devil's Run." St. Louis was a clearing 
house for stolen horses and there was hardly 
a horse thief in that day who did not handle 
spurious coin and pass it at every opportunity. 
As their operations grew other natural 
harbors of security were made use of, notably 
in the neighborhood of Terre Haute, in the 
Eel River country of Indiana, on the Wabash, 
and "Bogus Island," situated in the marsh 
country of Indiana some fifteen miles east of 
the frontier settlement of Momence. "Bogus 
Island," with its thousands of acres of open 
lake, swamp, scrub oak ridges and timber, 
formed the most perfect rendezvous of all. 
Thus it is we find Momence at the very be- 
ginning of her career as a backwoods settle- 
ment a neighbor of notorious "Bogus Island," 



8 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

and 021 terms of easy familiarity with the is- 
land's habitues. In the course of the years 
certain members of the squatter and trapper 
element, easy of conscience and wholly bank- 
rupt as to morals, formed a connection with 
these island outlaws and served as "spotters," 
"tip-off men" and purveyors of news gener- 
ally. A few there were who developed to a 
point where they could "make a sight" as the 
location of a desirable horse was termed in 
outlaw parlance, and also lend valuable aid "in 
raising the sight," if need be. This squatter 
"secret service" grew in efficiency as the years 
went on until its ramifications, penetrating 
to every quarter, enmeshed the surrounding 
country until it seemed all but hopeless to pre- 
vent a theft, and next to impossible to recover 
property thus stolen. 

Naturally, force was the dominant note 
in the affairs of men in the days of the old 
frontier in and about Momence. Such has 
been the case in all lands and in all places be- 
fore society crystallized sufficiently to estab- 
lish law and order. When these men who 
knew no law let down in the strenuous life, 
as was often the case, and sought the socia- 
bility of the border grog shops and gambling 
dens of the little river town of Momence on 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



the Kankakee, it may well be surmised that 
"the lid," as we say in this day, was not mere- 
ly tilted to a comfortable angle, but removed 
entirely — thrown in the river., Come to think 
of it, Momence had no such thing as "a lid" 
until long after these frontier types had pass- 
ed on. Ah, but those were wild and tumultuous 
days and nights in the old town 'round about 
1849 and for many years thereafter ! Coureurs 
de bois, voyageurs, Indians, trappers, hunters, 
gamblers, thieves, spotters — all the riff-raff of 
the wide, wide wilderness mingled indiscrim- 
inately in the public houses, all more or less 
sodden with whiskey. These men of the bord- 
er who endured much and worked hard, also 
played hard once the notion struck them. 

There were men who, after having spent 
days in these Bacchanlian orgies, shouldered 
their packs and hit the up-river trails to some 
lone cabin set in a bayou, were never heard 
from again. There were feuds in the old days 
and the penalty of a wrong was death! The 
answer to many a disappearance would have 
been the echo of a rifle shot — a dull splash in 
the river. The woods never babble of the 
secrets they hold and the river, undisturbed, 
flows on and croons of lighter things than 
death. Only the unfolding of the Judgment 



10 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Book will solve the mysteries of the upper 
river of which men talked and gossiped and 
speculated and then — forgot. 

According to the recollection of some of 
the older citizens Sunday was not observed 
at all. The saw-mill ran as usual ; men went 
about their vocations while horse races, box- 
ing bouts, foot-races and fights were common 
Sunday amusements. So absorbed in their own 
affairs and sports did this border populace 
become, that they actually lost track of the 
days of the week and were only reminded of 
Sunday when the up-river men, who got out 
timber for Momence's only industry, the saw 
mill, came down to town in force to spend 
one big, glad, riotous day in seven. All classes 
previously mentioned in this heterogeneous 
mixture of frontier types, regarded the pic- 
turesque log-roller with feelings of genuine 
awe and respect at such times as he invaded 
their precincts and disported in riotous 
abandon. Ample leeway at the bar was left 
for him ; the movable articles about the house 
which would have proved formidable in case 
of a rough and tumble, were shunted into the 
clear; the poker game retired to less conspic- 
uous quarters on the appearance of the first 
installment of visiting "lumber-jacks." Al- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 11 

together, the action was very much like when 
a ship battens down her hatches, trims her 
sails and makes everything safe and snug in 
the face of an approaching squall. 

The frontiersmen tacitly admitted by 
these acts of precaution that here was a case 
where an irresistible force was more than like- 
ly to come in contact with an immovable body 
and, to avoid the dire consequences of such 
a clash, they quietly ebbed to the open spaces 
of the great out of doors and looked on while 
the up-river boys took over the place and pro- 
ceeded to drink themselves "stone-blind." Nu- 
merous clashes had taken place between these 
irreconcilable forces of the frontier, but to no 
purpose. The riverman, cocky and smiling, 
flaunted his challenge in the face and eyes of 
all comers. His very presence in town was an 
invitation to fight. And, when he fought, he 
was a human wild-cat who observed no law or 
rule, but considered any means fair that enab- 
led him to vanquish his opponent. 

The town boys recalled only too bitterly 
that their champion came out of the last set- 
to with a thumb "chawed off," or nearly so, 
and with one ear elongated and drooping for 
all the world like that of a "pot-lickin' hound." 
And, supposedly, there were rules, agreed to 



12 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

before hand, governing this fight, which 
Queensberry himself would have approved of. 
Decidedly they were a bad lot and not to be 
trusted. For years the question of supremacy 
was an open one with the odds laying notice- 
ably in the direction of "up-river." In the ver- 
nacular of the old town of the border at a 
time when polished phrase languished in the 
background and only vigorous, resounding 
superlative thrived, these rivermen were char- 
acterized as "an ornery, low-lived set, of the 
damndest, most orneriest stripe!" With this 
high and lofty declaration, those who were 
wont to makei the old town ring with the ech- 
oes of their noisy carousal and mad pranks 
during six days and nights of the week, quiet- 
ly relinquished their places on the seventh day 
and— the sad truth must be admitted — hunted 
their holes. 

They were gainers in one respect, how- 
ever. While the ancient Chaldeans reckon- 
ed their time from the stars, these old-town 
people reckoned theirs from the day the riv- 
ermen "got through raisin' hell!" That day 
was always Monday, but the count was often 
hopelessly mixed by the time next Sunday ar- 
rived. Do you wonder that Momence had a 
bad name? Do you marvel that the leaven of 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 13 

good as represented by the few God-fearing 
families of the neighborhood took so long to 
permeate the mass and leaven the whole 
lump? 

Time, no less than nature, works his won- 
ders. The softening influence of time is eas- 
ily discerned in the old town of today. There 
is a noticeable polish, an air of dignity, an 
unmistakable refinement, an all-pervading 
prosperousness that conveys a charming sense 
of poise, serenity and general well being. De- 
cidedly the passing years have not been un- 
kind. But, at mention of her wild and woolly 
days, methinks she stirs uneasily and lifts 
a hand deprecatingly as if to say: "Now, for 
Heaven's sake, do be careful ! The past is gone ; 
the past is dead-— why trouble to dig it up?" 
Why dig it up indeed? Only that sometimes 
one travels far from the beaten paths of home 
to sense the atmosphere of old days; to 
glimpse the red-blood spirit of the frontier 
before the iron had been leached from it; to 
hob-knob with the shades of those erstwhile 
giants who, standing on the threshold of civ- 
ilization, acknowledged God yet feared no 
man. 

Momence, then, had all the elements that 
went) to make a border town. She had all the 



14 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

color, action and picturesqueness so character- 
istic of border days when law was a myth, re- 
straint unknown and whose best man, picked 
from the varied types of the wilderness, was 
admitted to be he who could swear the loud- 
est, hit the hardest, drink the most liquor and 
owned the best "race hoss." By degrees we 
have sought to bring the reader to a realiza- 
tion that Momence, way, way back, in the 
times of the brush and the big timber, was 
about as tough as the toughest of them. The 
fact that it was tough is not a pleasing recom- 
mendation altogether. It should not be gath- 
ered from these remarks that we would glor- 
ify the fact unduly. No, indeed ! We are con- 
tent to follow in the wake of others who have 
served mankind by immortalizing the bold 
deeds of the border in song, and verse, and 
story. Therefore, to this end, the shades of 
old-time traditions, once rich and colorful that 
still lurk, phantom-like, on the borderland of 
memory — faded, shadowy, indistinct in the 
deepening twilight of oblivion, have been be- 
sought to tell their story — just this once. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 15 

"THE UPPER CROSSING ON THE 
KANKAKEE" 

"So come, good men who toil and tire, 
Who smoke and sip the kindly cup, 
Ring round about the tavern fire 
Ere yet you drink your liquor up; 
And hear my simple tales of earth, 
Of youth and truth and living things; 
Of poverty and proper mirth, 
Of rags and rich imaginings." 

— Robert W. Service. 

There is no spot in all eastern Illinois 
more redolent of memories of frontier days 
than that spot known as the "Metcalf Farm," 
situated one mile east of the present city of 
Momence on the Kankakee River. Here the 
first white settlement in Eastern Illinois took 
place as far back as ninety years ago, all be- 
cause a well defined Indian trail dipped down 
the north bank to the river and emerged again 
on the south bank, indicating to the solitary 
trapper with his pack or the lone pioneer 
traveler with his ox team that here was a safe 
and convenient ford. Scarcely a mile away 
to the southwest on the river where the city 
of Momence of today is located, were two 
other fords thirty rods apart where the lime- 
stone "hog-back" of the river bed lifted suffi- 
ciently to make transportation easy and safe. 



16 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Three ideal fording places located within 
a mile was something very unusual. Nature 
truly was prodigal with her favors in this 
as well as other respects. A convenient river 
ford in the old wilderness days was quite as 
important an adjunct to a locality as the rail- 
road afterwards became. All lines of travel 
north and south of the river converged to- 
wards this segment of the Kankakee with its 
three fords. Chicago was the objective of 
the frontiersman from the Danville country, 
from the region of Vincennes, Indiana, and 
the Wabash country of central Indiana. Dur- 
ing the thirties, the forties and the early fif- 
ties the stream of travel to and from the grow- 
ing metropolis of Chicago grew in volume. 
Mainly these travelers used the ford nearest 
the Indiana state-line and called it the "Up- 
per Crossing," thus distinguishing it from the 
two farther west at Momence. 

In March of 1831, when Cook county was 
organized, its southern boundary was the 
Kankakee River and its eastern boundary the 
Indiana state-line. In the year 1833 Chicago 
voted to incorporate as a village, and in the 
fall of that same year the settlement at "Up- 
per Crossing" was inaugurated. The first 
house built in what is now eastern Kankakee 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 17 

county was on the farm since owned by Silas 
Metcalf , located on the north side of the river. 
It was a log house and was situated east of 
the present orchard. It was built by William 
Lacy. Lacy came from Danville, Illinois, with 
James VanKirk, who drove from Danville 
settlement to Chicago with a load of produce. 

The quartering of a large number of sol- 
diers in Chicago incident to the Black Hawk 
war, made provisions scarce and dear at that 
point and this induced VanKirk and Lacy to 
brave the privations and dangers of an over- 
land trip through the almost unknown coun- 
try. Both VanKirk and Lacy were deeply im- 
pressed with the beauty and natural advan- 
tages of this site on the Kankakee and, on 
their return, they stopped. As related, Lacy 
built the cabin on the Metcalf place and staid 
there during the winter. Mr. VanKirk started 
a cabin on the head of the island nearby and 
carried up the walls almost to the roof when 
he departed. He expected to return the fol- 
lowing year and perfect his claim but, for 
some reason did not do so. Lacy sold his claim 
a year or two later and thus failed to become 
a permanent resident of the settlement of 
which he was the founder. 



18 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

During the course of the years the settle- 
ment at "Upper Crossing" attracted a dwel- 
ler now and then until by 1845, it is said, there 
were as many as ten or a dozen families lo- 
cated there whose numbers were about even- 
ly divided between the north and south banks 
of the river. During these years "Upper 
Crossing" was variously known as "West- 
port," "Hill's Ford," and later, when Dr. David 
Lynds was given the postoffice, as "Lorain." 
There is a wide difference of opinion or mem- 
ory as to the old settlement. By some it is 
contended that there was scarcely anything 
there besides the tavern, while others are 
equally positive that there were twelve to fif- 
teen houses on the two sides of the river. 
There were several stores in the early days. 
Elon Curtis clerked in one of them, a place 
kept by a man by the name of Glover. Allen 
Rakestraw, widely known as "Old Dime," 
from his closeness in financial matters, kept 
a dram shop. There was also a blacksmith 
shop. The father of Dr. M. D. Green was al- 
so the gunsmith. Louis Buffington kept a 
tailor shop. Joseph VanKirk kept a hotel on 
the north side of the river for a while. The 
old settlers of Yellowhead maintain that it 
was the principal trading point from about 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 19 

1840 to 1848 and, in that event, it must have 
been quite a hamlet. The place had a bridge, 
built in 1842 which lasted until 1846. Another 
was built which went out in the spring of 
1849. 

In 1834 Asher Sargeant built the first 
habitation, a double log cabin at the island 
ford a mile to the southwest of the "Upper 
Crossing" and thus unconsciously acquired 
fame as the original settler of the present day 
municipality of Momence. He was the first 
store keeper at this point for, in one-half of 
the cabin, he established a small grocery whose 
principal articles of trade were whiskey and 
tobacco. As Newell Beebe expressed it, "they 
were the cheap products of the country." 
Asher Sargeant was followed by his brother 
Enoch, who came in 1835 accompanied by a 
man by the name of McKibben. These three, 
then, were the original first settlers at Mo- 
mence, within the present city limits. 

The double log house erected by Asher 
Sargeant, as nearly as can be ascertained at 
this late day, stood somewhere between the 
old Worcester and Lane hall and the residence 
of P. J. Cleary, probably where the alley now 
te between Range and Pine streets, just north 
of the river. 



20 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

As there were neither roads nor streets 
nor alleys in that day its exact location would 
now be difficult to determine. There seems to 
have been a question in the minds of the old- 
er settlers as to the year Asher Sargeant 
built his cabin on the Kankakee. John Smith, 
of Sherburnville, says that he came to this 
region with his parents in October, 1835, cross- 
ing the river at the present site of Momence. 
They stopped with Asher Sargeant who was 
living in the house at that time. He thinks 
1834 is the probable date of its erection. 

Asher Sargeant also built a saw-mill near- 
by. Some think the saw-mill was the first 
building put up. It is quite certain, however, 
that the saw-mill was not built until 1837 or 
1838. Mr. Smith says the saw-mill was not 
there at the time of his arrival. William Par- 
ish says that the Sargeant house had "pun- 
cheon" or hewed floors, which would not have 
been the case had Sargeant built the mill 
first. Mr. Parish had a lively recollection of 
attending a dance at the Sargeant home and 
of getting splinters in his bare feet from the 
floor while dancing. The cotillion was halted 
while William sat down and extracted them. 
Several deep seated slivers required the serv- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 21 

ices of his lady to successfully extract, where- 
upon the dance was resumed. 

About 1838, Asher Sargeant erected as a 
matter of fact, the first mill for grinding corn 
in this part of the country. This mill was built 
on the farm now owned by John H. Nichols, 
one and a half miles northeast of Momence, on 
Trim Creek. The site was about a half mile 
east of Hubbard's trail, and a mile north of 
Hill's Tavern and the location of the first 
postoffice, Lorain. A dam was built across the 
creek to hold water for power, and a canal 
was dug about 80 rods from a bend in the 
creek to the mill. This canal is plainly to be 
seen today. Also some of the timbers of the 
old dam such as mud-sills are embedded in the 
bottom of the creek and are in a good state 
of preservation. The mill was abandoned 
about the time the mill was erected in Mo- 
mence in 1843, on account of lack of power. 
The grinding buhrs were cast aside and laid 
near the road for years, finally being sold and 
taken to Lowell, Indiana, where they were 
used in a mill for years. 

The second house to be built in Momence 
was also a log structure but the name of the 
builder is lost to us. Matt Anderson and Isaac 



22 



TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



Gray lived in it, 
however, while 
they were em- 
ployed at the 
saw-mill. 

In 1836 A. S. 
Vail and Orson 
Beebe, who came 
to the Beebe 
Grove settle- 
ment near Crete, 
Illinois, in 1835, 
moved on to the 
Kankakee. As 
they surmount- 
ed the hill north 

Oliver Beebe sat in this Chair and of Momence Mr. 
Drove his Team from Vermont to the u •] pnT .o n f llT .pH 
Kankakee. He was an Uncle of Judge v ail > enraptured 
Orson Beebe. The Board in the Cen- by the marvel- 
ter is what is Known as a "Shake." « 

Judge Orson Beebe Placed it There OUS panorama 01 
to Rest his Head on When he Slept. rJoincj onrl xxmnAo 
There is a Tradition That Governor Plains ana WOOdS 
Skinner, of Vermont, Once Owned it. through which 
It is naw in the Possession of Miss fhprivprtnnVit? 
Lucy Day, of Redlands, California. ine nver ™0K l^S 

leisurely, wind- 
ing way, exclaimed: "Here is where I stay!" 
There was the ring of prophesy in his words. 
He lived to see the wilderness of that day give 




AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 23 

way to beautiful homes and growing crops. 
A kindly providence vouchsafed to him the 
rare privilege of living to be a centenarian— 
almost. To him, by natural selection, per- 
haps, fell the honor of being the town's histor- 
ian and arbiter of moot questions of names 
and dates and facts involving the settlers 
thereabouts. How rare a quality is that which 
remembers when most of the world forgets! 
His rare memory supplied the newspaper man 
with many a story of old days now and then. 
The high school student of later days sought 
him out and chronicled in an essay or school 
paper some interesting experience of wilder- 
ness days. At public gatherings, when the 
pioneers came together, "Uncle Sid" was the 
moving spirit, the recognized leader in re- 
counting those interesting experiences with 
which the lives of the pioneers were filled. 

Save for a chance newspaper article that 
has survived, a high school year book, found 
now and then, with data of the past preserv- 
ed therein, the memory of the older citizens 
who enjoyed the rare privilege of listening 
to "Uncle Sid" Vail constitutes the only source 
of information in this day. Oh, that some 
early-day scribe with note-book and pencil had 
shadowed "Uncle Sid" and recorded his utter- 



24 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ances with the same persistent fidelity with 
which Boswell pursued Dr. Johnson. 

The third house built in Momence was 
on the south side of the river and was put 
up by A. S. Vail and Judge Orson Beebe. It 
was located a few rods west of where the Chi- 
cago & Eastern Illinois railroad bridge now 
is, not far from the South channel of the 
river. It was a double log? cabin of goodly di- 
mensions and, on its completion, the builders 
engaged in the tavern business. Theirs was 
the first regularly established tavern in Mo- 
mence. 

Mr. Vail and Mr. Beebe bought the land 
on which the business section of Momence 
stands today for $220 in gold. They held pos- 
session of this tract for eight years and then 
lost it by a "float." The peculiar designation 
of "float" was applied to certain awards of 
land to members of the Prairie Band of the 
Pottawattomi under the treaty of 1833, where- 
by they ceded their lands generally to the 
United States. Those Indians to whom a land 
award was made by the government, had the 
privilege of making their selection wherever 
they chose after the survey of these lands 
had been completed, provided, of course, that 
the land thus chosen had not been previously 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 25 

entered. This privilege was what was term- 
ed "a float title." The claim purchased by Mr. 
Vail and Mr. Beebe had been guaranteed to 
be free from "floats," but it was afterwards 
ascertained that an Indian "float" had been 
located on the land. In consequence of this 
they lost their claims and the only benefit they 
derived from eight years' occupation of the 
land was the use of it and the house which 
stood upon it. 

The first frame house built within the 
present limits of Momence was by Chauncey 
Chipman, probably about the year 1841 or 
1842. As nearly as can be ascertained now it 
was erected on the east side of Range street, 
not far from Second, probably on the lot own- 
ed by N. Cantway, north of the old Knighthart 
livery stable. In the opinion of Newell Beebe 
it was the fourth house to be built within the 
present limits. It was built before Dr. Todd 
platted the town of Momence. L. D. Edwards, 
who came here in 1843, says that the house 
was standing then and is the same house that 
now stands on the lot. This, then, is the old- 
est house in Momence, the prior log struct- 
ures having long since disappeared. 

Messrs. Vail and Beebe did a good busi- 
ness with their tavern notwithstanding only a 



26 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

mile away at the "Upper Crossing/' the fam- 
ous Boniface, Robert Hill, held forth at "Hill's 
Tavern." Prior to 1833 and up until the late 
sixties these fords were made use of by the 
settlers in. Eastern Illinois south of the river 
and those of south-western Indiana who haul- 
ed their produce to Chicago. Year by year this 
travel was augmented by thousands of immi- 
grants moving into the west. Mr. Parish says 
that he has beheld more than a hundred wag- 
on outfits camped on the river at Momence 
in a single evening. It was a delightful spot 
in the old days and, apparently, caught the 
fancy of all who came that way. 

About 1845 a good deal of travel from 
central western Indiana began to be diverted 
from the "Upper Crossing" to Momence by 
way of still another ford on the Kankakee, 
that known as "The Day Ford," situated a 
mile or two north-east of the village of Aroma 
Park. Principally these were frontier farm- 
ers from Indiana hauling their produce to 
Chicago who found they were thus enabled to 
avoid many miles of heavy, sandy road, by 
cutting across the Chicago-Vincennes Road to 
this ford where they crossed the Kankakee 
and followed the trail around to Momence. In 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 27 

the course of the years many hundreds of 
teams came by this route. 

Luther Gleason tells an interesting story 
of the days when he was a little boy living on 
the prairie farm that fronted the river in the 
segment between Aroma Park and East 
Court Street bridge, not far from the "Day 
Ford/' Many Indiana farmers used to cross 
here on their way to Chicago with loads 
of apples. It was along in 1848 during the 
Zachary Taylor campaign, and the older 
members of the family used to put him up to 
hurrah for Taylor at such times as the apple 
wagons passed by. The result was that Tay- 
lor being very popular as a presidential can- 
didate among the Indianaians, they would in- 
variably throw out a liberal quantity of apples 
as they passed in evidence of friendly appre- 
ciation. Mr. Gleason says that one day a lone 
apple wagon came by and, after he had duly 
hurrahed for Taylor, the driver of the team 
stopped suddenly and asked: "what for?" And 
the boy, somewhat abashed and confused at 
the unexpected query, replied truthfully but 
haltingly, "For Apples." 

"Upper Crossing," be it known, was fa- 
mous in a way long before William Lacy and 
James VanKirk settled there in 1833. The 



28 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

"Crossing," so far as the white man's activi- 
ties are concerned, dates back into the gray 
shadows of the past for more than a century. 
If Momence citizens were disposed to take ad- 
vantage of the opportunity thus presented 
to stress the historical importance of the place 
as well as that of deserted "Upper Crossing" 
at the Metcalf farm, they could give us an 
historical pageant that would be well worth 
anyone's time to witness. 

That "Iron Man" of the frontier, Gurdon 
S. Hubbard, together with Noel LeVasseur, 
Dominique Bray, Victor Porthier, Jacques 
Jombeaux, Antoine Bourbonnais and others 
inaugurated the "Hubbard Trace" between 
the little trading post of "Bunkum," on the 
Iroquois river, and South Water Street, which 
is only another name for Chicago of the fron- 
tier. This was done in the year 1824, more 
than one hundred years ago, nine years be- 
fore the settlement at "the Crossing" in 1833. 
The "Hubbard Trace" made use of this cross- 
ing. It was a day when the Indian villages 
of the Pottawattomi, hunters, trappers and 
traders with their strings of pack-horses, 
coureurs du bois and an occasional voyageur 
clad in the picturesque attire of the border, 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 29 

crossed and recrossed the Kankakee at this 
ford. 

This famous trail, first blazed by Gurd- 
on S. Hubbard from Chicago one hundred and 
fifty miles south-east of Danville, was later 
used in part when the Illinois State Assembly 
authorized the Chicago-Vincennes Road to be 
located in 1833-4. That part of the road north 
from Danville to Chicago was followed by the 
commissioners with but little variation, for 
the line was direct and followed the high 
ground. The Assembly ordered this road to 
be marked, at intervals of one mile with num- 
bered milestones, beginning at Vincennes. 
Probably the only stone now extant between 
Danville and Chicago is that which now stands 
in front of the John Nichols home two miles 
north of "Upper Crossing." It is the 179th 
milestone. It is in a good state of preserva- 
tion and has been guarded with jealous care 
by the Nichols family for many years. For 
years this stone stood in the field and was 
subsequently removed to the roadside, a few 
rods to the west. 

This "Trace" instituted by Hubbard in 
1824 furnished a much more direct and con- 
venient method of communication between the 
posts of the fur country and headquarters at 



30 



TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 




AN ANCIENT MILE-STONE 
About the only Remaining Stone Which 
Marked the Chicago- Vincennes Trail in 
1834. It is Stone 179, and Stands Opposite 
the Home of Mrs. Malinda Nichols, North- 
east of Momence. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 31 

Chicago. By means of the pack-horse the 
season's furs were easily transported, where- 
as before, the pack had been freighted out by 
means of boats. Traversing the Iroquois and 
the Kankakee to the DesPlaines was not so 
bad, generally, but in times of low water in 
the DesPlaines and "Mud Lake," the men were 
often obliged to work all day in water up to 
their waists. Transporting supplies to and 
from the interior by this primitive means was 
an exhausting, heart-breaking experience at 
best. From 1824 as long as Hubbard oper- 
ated in the country, every pelt from the Iro- 
quois and the Kankakee and the nearby In- 
diana marshes, went into Chicago on the back 
of a pack-horse. 

In the winter of 1830-31, a winter remem- 
bered among the pioneers for its heavy snow 
and intense cold, Hubbard undertook to drive 
a bunch of hogs which he had picked up along 
the trail from Danville to old "Bunkum," to 
Chicago. There was snow on the ground to 
the depth of seven inches when he started. It 
took him several days to reach the "Upper 
Crossing on the Kankakee with his herd. He 
pitched his camp on the south bank in a hol- 
low that afforded some protection from the 
wind. The snow was slushy and a fine rain 



32 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

had set in as the men turned in for the night, 
During the night it turned colder and, on 
awakening in the morning the men found 
their clothing frozen fast to the ground so 
that they extricated themselves with difficul- 
ty. It was very cold and snowing heavily, so 
the hogs were rounded up in the deep snow 
in the hollow where the men had bivouaced 
and left to shift for themselves. 

Hubbard crossed the river and went in 
search of Chief Yellowhead's camp up at the 
present Yellowhead Point, which he was suc- 
cessful in finding in spite of the storm which 
raged furiously. Here also he found his old 
friend, the half-breed, Billy Caldwell, a bro- 
ther-in-law of Yellowhead, who had his tepee 
pitched close by. Hubbard was welcomed by 
Caldwell with true aboriginal hospitality, and 
during the two days that the storm raged he 
remained, meanwhile drinking prodigious 
quantities of tea brewed by Caldwell's squaw. 

When the drive with the hogs was again 
resumed the snow was two feet deep on a 
level, and in some places had drifted over the 
trail to a depth of five or six feet. The wag- 
ons that carried the feed for the animals broke 
out a partial trail but the drifts had to-be 
shoveled out. Naturally progress was slow. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 33 

Hubbard said that it took Thirty Days to go 
from the Kankakee river to Chicago with that 
drove of hogs, such being the difficulties en- 
countered on the way. He slaughtered such 
as remained of the herd on his arrival in Chi- 
cago and disposed of the carcasses. 

On the return trip it took ten days to 
come as far as the "Upper Crossing" on the 
Kankakee. The ice and drifts and the cold 
were so great as to thus impede the progress 
of empty wagons. Again they were obliged to 
shovel their way through great drifts to en- 
able the wagons to pass. It was a bitter night 
when the Kankakee was reached. The river 
was high and filled with floating ice. The 
great box of the Pennsylvania wagon was re- 
moved and its openings chinked with snow 
over which water was poured which froze 
instantly and made it water tight. Harness, 
blankets and utensils were loaded into this 
improvised boat and, with the men, were safe- 
ly transferred to the opposite bank. But the 
horses had to swim for it. Altogether, the 
time consumed for that round trip from 
"Bunkum" post on the Iroquois to Chicago 
and back, a distance of about one hundred and 
fifty miles, was near fifty days. While that 
constitutes pretty nearly a record for time 



34 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

consumed in making a short trip, the out- 
standing feature is the spirit of hardihood on 
the part of those who persevered and by 
sheer endurance and grit triumphed finally 
over the elements. 

The hogs that made up this drove of Hub- 
bard's in 1830 were not comparable to those 
marketed in this day. As a pioneer expressed 
it, those old-time hogs were range hogs and 
used to hustling for a living. They were 
large in body, with long legs and seldom or 
never fat. Apparently they were built for 
speed and endurance, and at that not all of 
the herd with which Hubbard started for Chi- 
cago, survived the hardships of the trip. Ne- 
cessity was the spur by which our pioneer 
fathers were urged to attempt the unusual. 
Hardship and personal discomfort and suf- 
fering did not particularly matter IF THE 
THING COULD BE DONE. 

That piece of road which leads from the 
river bank on the north side passing the Met- 
calf home and continuing north for thirty or 
forty rods to the Buntain corner, is actual 
Hubbard Trail, in the main. It is historic 
ground. For most people the imagination fails 
in its efforts to picture the strange frontier 
types that thronged it in the early twenties 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 35 

and thirties. For the most part the enormous 
import of that slow moving panorama in 
which is pictured the ox teams and covered 
wagons of the forties and fifties, is lost to us 
today. But the fact remains that the "Up- 
per Crossing/' deserted though it is in this 
day and devoid of even the semblance of a set- 
tlement, was the gateway through which 
those builders of the great middle west 
thronged. 



36 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

THE NAMING OF MOMENCE 

As a matter of fact Momence was nam- 
ed eighty-one years ago, ten years after Asher 
Sargeant drifted in over the lower ford and 
reared the first white man's habitation with- 
in the present city limits. This spot which 
was destined to become Momence, although 
attracting a settler now and then, had no name 
at all from 1834 up until 1841 or 1842. In 
one or the other of those years A. S. Vail re- 
ceived the appointment as postmaster and, as 
a name for the office then became an abso- 
lute necessity, he christened the office "Lor- 
ain," in honor of his sister-in-law, Miss Lorain 
Beebe, sister of Judge Orson Beebe and New- 
ell Beebe. This first postoffice of Lorain was 
kept in a small building which Mr. Vail also 
used as a residence, located west of the pre- 
sent Paradis wagon shops not far from the 
river between Front Street and River Street. 

The ford at the Metcalf farm a mile east 
was much more fortunate in the matter of 
distinguishing titles. Originally it was known 
as the "Upper Crossing," "Hill's Ford," "West- 
port" and later as "Lorain" when congress- 
man "Long John" Wentworth, on discovering 
that Mr. Vail was a Whig, searched out the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 37 

only democrat in the community capable of 
conducting the office, Dr. David Lynds, and 
made him postmaster. Dr. Lynds lived in the 
near vicinity of the "Upper Crossing/' some- 
where near to where the Tiffany Brick Works 
are today, and, after his appointment he mov- 
ed the office to his home. The name "Lorain" 
could not be improved upon in the opinion of 
the Doctor, for he had become the husband of 
Miss Lorain Beebe in the meantime. So, for- 
saking all other titles by which the settlement 
at the "Upper Crossing" had been known since 
1833, it gladly blossomed out as "Lorain," and 
by that name it is known unto this day by the 
older inhabitants. The incipient settlement 
only a mile away, first known as "Lorain," 
thus robbed of its importance, waited in name- 
less obscurity for that great event — a real 
birth as an industrial community which took 
place in 1844. 

Regarding the name "Momence," there 
has been a notable conflict of opinion regard- 
ing its origin among the elders of the com- 
munity. It is strange how the important de- 
tails of this backwoods christening failed to 
register in the memory of that day. Hiram 
W. Beckwith, of Danville, who is well known 
for his writings of the early history of the 



38 



TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 




I MPORTANT TO TOTERHlllfeS. 
FOR SALE, 

8.000 ACHES OP LAND, all xndiah reservation 

BY TBS -POTAWATAMXE TREATY OF 183X 
3200 Aoxes wore located, by treaty, on the ?Jcjth 

llnuk of «ln- K«nknkrc llivrr, nl thr inont). of Itork Creek, in WW Comity, illi- 
noi-, for SlmivHuni.t-.i-.-. .. Pnliiwnlnmi.- fhirf. (.. in.-lu.li- l.i— former residence 
.mil Villosc Bod»lhn,ttlnrlv known •« the Ift.rk Vllhtire, or 8h«wwiii.iu>»cc Hccr- 
ration. It is situated tcii miles nbovo Wilmington, « llouri.hini: Villuife on the 
Kanknk.c. wherAii IV.-.l.r mu.t hr lake, lor llir Mi. hiuaii un.l JUinuis Cunul. 
through which hoi- unit p»«s from the t'l.nal to ibis place, i 

This trncl hi»V never fnllid to elicit the i*dnt(rution 

or nirtlwlMM-lhaJ""*' of some) who hare vi-iic.l tin. eounlo It* .ilu.ttion w 
. l.-v.u, ,1. <lrv, ■■mTVtuU .lupini: to Ilio lt>. r mid Crock wbiefcYlin* through it 
Thr noil U iiiiaurp2--c4 iu fertility by unj h.tn.cn th<- l.rci o ^bmntain nnd the 
Mississippi Itircff It .mhriirr. iil.out I WO Acre, of Timber ;• plenty of Lime- 
stone, of super!*/ ninility for bull. liny, and is well »ntrr.-<l by Springs niul sraull 

llriiiirln sl"..r lli.Tcn. .ni. nr<- nf k rni-ini;. 'I'll. Ititer for In. fcly mile- nbovt 

un.l I. .Ion is gam-mllt ni|.i.l. it- hr.l l.n.l bunk ol' Limestone sn.l Marble, in ran- 
rcplihlc ..f.'.Kt imprint-incut i.l l hi- place, on. I i- rnu-i.lcrcd by good iii.lgc., r.iuul, 
if not superior' lor hydraulic i.uri. ..-.-. to lh.it ol' llochostcr. in U.e Ktnle of Sow 

ublisbcd; hihI 
id ft Ion n will 



.....I i 






,\ork. Here i- ,J hruulilut tonu 

upon the Creek iieiir In i- n Sun-Mill crif led 
be Ini.TTrat In hm«| nnrt'nrlrrc.l for sole lUf rolll 

Tlic'fnrmlim; portion is surveyed into tracts varying 

in size from 30 InJIOO ucros, curb bcinr>)supulied with limber, and tn*»t of th«a> 
.with iiiruiiiiiMil nuter. \ 

IbiitliiiS prnntu 



The oth«-r lands were 

1833, with curl-, au.l upprtned In th 
ieetio.li .in- adjoining th. It... k lillug 
■ rilie Iroimoi* ILirr. urn" ' 
i»:.„_ ..i t:n..,A.:ijT: V .. 



f-SOUlholl 

from Viiiernm-N'oiilTthc lower W 
mfr«stietfHn-ye*?nlW_i;iiri.irt. "II 
A ll.ini un.l SnwvWuVlo irrrtrd 
erection for three) run of -ton. -.nil 
thin poinpupwanl-i, the lliter tins no ol. 
-icuinboiits, for,r>Onr !)0 mil.--, to nitliii 
Here ulso is a beautiful hi-*-' Xllh 
phuticully The Place for u ,nw 
proprietors hn\e re 
lu.liuu Itcscrv 



selected in 

at. Three half 



IV, -iil.-nt in IVhriinrj 

let. *J5()(> n.r.'-. ill lltld.nciir the nmutti 
lie In in I ortlu- IC.ipi.N^f tboKanknfarr 
vbrn- the Mule Itou.lj-ru— r» the Itiver 
mutrt Iu « lii.oo.i. .1 P<mU Ortiee i« «•»- 
k wilier power i-.pin) to unj in the Wen. 

.1.1, .11.. ilu - l-iofOelober neyt. From 



»l.-jr 



illj liliil out u Inwiljnlled .tlollK-nce, the nuine of the original 
ol« ofnliich ure ofirc.l ut private silk, lo^elhorwith oil the 
property here ilescribeil,in trart» or i|imuAies to suit pnreliiiscr-.il> thi SisbM-ribcr, 
who will be plenvi d to unswer uiiv Coni|iuiiieutions on ||:« «ubj<x:l, AddrHoed to 
bim ut Rockrillc, If'ill Co«.-it», ItlinoiA mi* 4-^' ^" — ^~"\ 

•It is weii known by those nc. 



p. B.-i-It is wei! knowii by those nc. ^u„with 

Indiuu Reserves, thut ifiey uro the i hoiraof the whole Ftirrnundiog eouolry, bath 
us regards health, un.l beiiiity of locality .un.l ijuulity ol'lhc IuiiuS whilst every one 
knows the partiality or the Ahoriuince ollaiir eoiintry f 
Bockciltc. Will Co., illuiou, A - 



^^.oj,*,.™,,. 



ili.iur country for the best forest Inud. 
April pi, 1HI.V 

HEFDUEWCE8 : 

\ I IMIOS. C Al.VOIlli.rv,. 
.co. Ili. ' CI WM ...101)1% 

HENDKRSON i Vfl^i 









This Sale Bill, Gotten out in 1844, by Dr. Hiram 

Todd, Advertised Lots of the New Townsite 

of Momence for Sale. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 39 

state and especially Eastern Illinois, says the 
name Momence was derived from "Momen- 
za/' a noted Pottawattomie chief, the assump- 
tion being that a clerk in the office of Indian 
affairs at Washington after wrestling in vain 
with the undecipherable hand writing thus 
expressed it. On the other hand, A. S. Vail, 
who knew the Indian personally, says that his 
name was "Mo-ness." Dr. Hiram Todd, of 
Rockville, Illinois, who platted the original 
townsite of Momence in 1844, and advertised 
the same in 1845 by means of posters (a pho- 
tographic reproduction of one of which is 
hereby given), states specifically that "The 
proprietors have recently laid out a town 
which they have called MOMENCE, THE 
NAME OF THE ORIGINAL INDIAN RE- 
SERVEE!" 

What a conflict of eminent authorities! 
Dr. Todd, however, was a careful, methodical 
man of business, a lawyer and an Associate 
Judge of the Cass county, Indiana Circuit. 
From 1833 to 1843 he had become the purchas- 
er of eight thousand acres of Indian Reser- 
vation and "Grant lands" on the Kankakee 
river from Rock Creek to Momence. He must 
have been well informed as to the particular 
treaty of 1832 by means of which the United 



40 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

States government came into possession of 
the lands of the Prairie Band of the Pottawat- 
tomi as well as those of the Pottawattomi 
of lower Michigan and upper Indiana, of 
which "To-pen-ne-bee" was the head chief and 
"Po-ka-gon" second chief. The treaty itself 
throws interesting light on the situation since 
it mentions specifically the names of all Indian 
members to whom "floating grants" of land 
were made. The Frenchman, Pierre Moran, 
alias "Peerish," was a chieftain of power and 
influence in the band of which To-pen-ne-bee 
was the head. His half-breed son, "Mo-ness/' 
was a chief by reason of having married "Je- 
neir," the daughter of a chief. "Je-neir," un- 
der the treaty, was given/ a floating grant for 
one section of land. The three half-breed sons 
of Pierre Moran were given a total of one 
section disposed as follows: to "Wa-be-ga," 
and "Isadore Mo-mence," one-quarter section 
each; to "Saw-grets," one half section. It is 
a significant fact that "Mo-ness," the hus- 
band of "Je-neir," was not awarded a foot of 
land under this treaty. 

A popular historical tradition, however, 
credits "Mo-ness" with having received two 
and one-half sections of land and that on the 
31st of July 1834, he gave a bond to execute 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 41 

a deed for this "float" to one James R. Mc- 
Cord. By many it is thought that McCord 
located the "float" where Momence stands to- 
day. McCord never got his deed but, instead, 
sold his claim to Todd & Bainbridge, May 13, 
1843. One thing is evident; "Mo-ness," be- 
yond a doubt gave al bond for a deed to some- 
body's "float title," probably the section 
awarded to his squaw, "Je-neir." It seems 
hardly probable that he took it upon himself to 
transfer the holdings of his three brothers, 
amounting in all to one section. We repeat, 
it seems unlikely that this was done, although 
many curious transactions involving the In- 
dian and the white man have come to light now 
and then which afforded a basis for serious 
legal complications and long drawn out liti- 
gation. This, unfortunately, happened in the 
case of the titles to the land upon which Mo- 
mence now stands. 

The survey of the townsite of Momence 
was inaugurated during the summer of 1844 
by Dr. Hiram Todd. W. A. Chatfield was at 
that time building the flouring mill on the is- 
land. Twelve blocks were laid out in this first 
survey, bounded on the north by Fourth 
Street, on the east by Maple Street, on the 
south by River Street and on the west by 



42 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Range Street. This survey was made by Rob- 
ert J. Boylan, of Joliet, in 1844. Joseph Web- 
ster, later a resident of Momence, carried the 
chain and drove the stakes. The townsite of 
Momence was opened for sale to the public 
April 22, 1845, large posters of that date, sign- 
ed by Hiram Todd, announcing the fact to the 
public at large. It is a significant fact that 
the name of the town is given in the bills as 
"Momence." The plat of the townsite was 
entered of record at Joliet, Will county, in 
1846 as "Momence." 

Mr. Isaac Olds, who worked on the Chat- 
field mill in 1844, gives testimony regarding 
the naming of Momence that is incontrover- 
tible. He says: "Dr. Todd gave the name of 
Momence to the town. I remember that he 
was talking about! it and at the time proposed 
two names, "Momence" and "Saw-grets," as 
nearly as I can remember. Mrs. Chatfield, 
who was present, said : "Doctor, why don't you 
call the place Toddsville?" He refused the 
suggestion and finally settled upon the name 
"Momence." This illuminating statement by 
Mr. Olds clears up several points that have 
been more or less controversial in the town's 
history. First — the names of "Momence" and 
"Saw-grets," between which Dr. Todd hesi- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 43 

tated In a matter of selection, are the names 
of two half-breed sons of the chieftain Pierre 
Moran who received "floating grants" to land 
under the same treaty as the squaw "Je-neir. 
Second — in the volume of Indian treaties, pub- 
lished by the United States Government in 
1837, on page 543, the last paragraph contains 
the names "Isadore Mo-mence and "Saw- 
grets," sons of "Pier Moran." The name Mo- 
mence, then, was not a coined name as many 
believed. The name as given to the town by 
Dr. Todd and later to the township, appeared 
in the treaty in the exact othography of today, 
barring the elimination of the hyphen after 
the first syllable. 

Some years later, when the township of 
Ganeer was struck off from Momence town- 
ship, it was thought to be the proper thing 
to name it after the original grantee, the 
squaw Je-neir, whose "floating grant" of one 
section adjoined on the west that of Pierre 
Moran's three half-breed sons, "Wa-be-ga," 
"Isadore Mo-mence" and "Saw-grets." These 
sections were divided by the range line and 
Range Street which divides the city thus de- 
rives its significance. Clark Richards, who 
made the first survey and plat of the town- 
ship, entered the name as "Ganeer." It went 



44 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



/ j. j. 











"• .v^ia* 


"f 


l 








S&eJ^v ,-~ 


*i 








^w^^w^ 




. 1 








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1 


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ft- 


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L. J* ° 


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k^N 



FIRST MAP OF KANKAKEE COUNTY 

This is a Reproduction of the First Map 
Ever Made of Kankakee County. It was Made 
by Clark Richards. It was Made in 1852, and 
Shows the Old Trail Which ran From the 
Southeast to the Northwest Through the City 
of Kankakee. Iroquois County at that Time 
Came to the Kankakee River on the South, 
and Will County on the North. 

on record that way and no effort ever was 
made to rectify this lapse in the expressed or- 
thography of the treaty of 1832. It was a wor- 
thy sentiment, however, on the part of those 
old-time residents of Momence that sought to 
unite this ancient aboriginal couple in this 
way and preserve for all time the historical 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 45 

associations suggested by the names "Mo- 
mence and "Je-neir." But, by that peculiar 
fatuity which led them to regard "Mo-ness" 
as "Mo-men-za," and finally "Momence," they 
have fallen short of achieving the thing they 
sought. As matters stand, the aged "Mo-ness 
is in total eclipse; the youthful half-breed 
"Momence" is holding hands, so to speak, 
across an imaginary line with his sister-in-law, 
"Je-neir," or "Ganeer," in modern parlance, 
and to use a phrase of the late Stephen R. 
Moore — "and there you are !" 

Isaac Olds bought the first town lot sold 
in Momence in 1845. It was the one on which 
Thomas Hamilton afterwards built. He paid 
thirty dollars for it. The United States, it is 
said, did not make a deed to "Mo-ness" until 
February 17, 1845, and it does not appear that 
"Mo-ness" ever executed anything but the 
bond for a deed. Things went on in this man- 
ner until April 29, 1853. At this time Johna- 
than Crews, a man who lived by looking up 
defective Indian titles went to Arkansas and 
got a deed to the entire tract from an Indian 
who claimed to be the son and only living heir 
of Mo-ness and Je-neir. 

Crews interested Lycurgus Sherman, a 
banker of LaPorte, Indiana, and others in his 



46 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

title, and then began the war over rival titles 
to the land on which Momence was located, 
that resulted so disastrously to the growth 
and development of the town. There were 
others angles to this mix-up of titles which 
tended to involve the situation with so many 
complexities that the matter was taken to the 
United States Court. As a result of this ac- 
tion the United States Court on December 18, 
1864, issued an order which perpetually en- 
joined Crews, Sherman, et al, from interfer- 
ing in any way with the James Mix titles, ac- 
quired through Todd & Bainbridge. 

On January 16, 1865, a special deed was 
given Mix by Henry W. Brooks, special Com- 
missioner appointed by the United States 
Court. Then, for the first time, Momence 
property owners became sure of their titles 
after teri years of litigation and uncertainty. 
Mix paid the Crews faction $1,000 in consid- 
eration of the settlement and a quit-claim 
deed. On account of the many flaws contain- 
ed in the early record, and the fact that the 
United States Court made the title good in 
1864, few abstracts run back beyond that date, 
and in most cases, Mix made new deeds to the 
property already sold. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 47 

From 1845 up until the advent of Crews 
with his rival townsite in 1853, Momence en- 
joyed a considerable growth. Of the older in- 
habitants who have been prominent in the 
town's business history, most of them came 
here between the years 1849 and 1853. M. A. 
Atherton, Slocum Wilbur, J. L. Clark and per- 
haps a dozen more settled in the town between 
those dates. The same may be said of fully a 
dozen more who have moved away or gone 
to their long homes. The return of the post- 
office from Lorain occurred in the spring of 
1849, and the changing of the name to Mo- 
mence, apparently marked the real beginning 
of Momence as a municipality. 



48 



TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



- ;...,.;.- 


:■ - : . 






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i ^ .:: :/-C,;#|:. 




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111 


>-5- '*.J| 





TRAPPER DAN PARMLEE 



A Familiar Early-Day Character 
About Momence who had his Abode 
at "The Garden of Eden," Up-river 
Between Momence and the Indiana 
State-line. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 49 



THE PASSING OF " OLD TRAPPER DAN" 

Better than sixty years ago, the Kanka- 
kee river from Momence eastward to the 
state-line was a paradise for the trapper who 
sought fine furs. It was more than a paradise 
for the fisherman — it was Heaven, that's all ! 
It was a favored spot for that unique charac- 
ter of the frontier, the restless, roving coureur 
de bois who, charmed by the plentitude of 
nature's charms in this particular section, 
stayed on and on until the tradition of the 
rover had given way completely to that of the 
peaceful, contented, easy-going habitant. 

In this early day, before the natural 
beauty of the river had been defaced or dis- 
torted by the so-called "improvements of 
growing civilization," there appeared one day 
an old campaigner, black with the grime of 
the wilderness and with but little of this 
world's goods, who, in his summing up of the 
beauty of the situation unconsciously paid tri- 
bute to omnipotence when he said : "God only 
made one country like this, and he made it for 
me!" This is no idle, extravagant statement, 
in proof of which we cite the fact that here, 
years ago, that staunch old pioneer Dan Parm- 
lee, located "The Garden of Eden," after hav- 



50 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ing traversed many countries and many 
climes. 

Poor, old, eccentric Dan ! He was not so 
far off in the naming the place at that. And 
how he loved it ! His castle was a rude hut but 
a castle none the less. A narrow "draw" 
which ran from the river inland for a dis- 
tance of one hundred feet or more enabled 
him to bring his canoe right up to the door 
of a log store-house in which he stored his 
furs. And here, at times when he felt the 
symptoms of those peculiar "loco" spells, with 
which he was later in life beset, he shut him- 
self in with the furs for a week at a time, a 
voluntary prisoner on his own domain. 

In time, trouble came to Dan, trouble not 
of his own making. But whether you make 
your own trouble or have it made for you it 
is trouble just the same. "The Garden of 
Eden" was mortgaged. It was a new phase 
of life for Dan whose independent nature re- 
belled at paying interest, to say nothing of 
the principal. In the course of the years, this 
man who refused to take civilization serious- 
ly, was haunted by the spectre of a bailiff 
with foreclosure papers. The bailiff, in turn, 
was haunted by the vision of old "Dan" him- 
self armed with that long-range rifle of his 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 51 

which was never known to miss a target at one 
hundred yards. There was an uncomprom- 
ising air about this tall, lean, gaunt backwoods 
figure, a set expression about the chin and the 
lower jaw, a peculiar hardness of the pale 
blue eyes by which one knew instinctively that 
all overtures for mercy (especially on the part 
of a bailiff) would prove fruitless and unavail- 
ing. 

In the end, the vision of the man with the 
rifle and the high-set chin prevailed. Event- 
ually Dan did what he said he was going to 
do, sometime — "die there by God!" At his 
passing the tidings of the old man's death 
were first brought to Momence by one of his 
own kith and kin who, sauntering into the old 
stone saloon on Range street, responded first 
to an invitation from the boys to take a drink, 
after which he startled the company by the 
sententious query: "Didyuh hear the news?" 
They had not, of course. "The old man's 
dead," he announced with all the assurance of 
one who gives important news first. "Why, 
the devil you say," exclaimed one of the crowd. 

"Yes I do," he ejaculated, "he's deader 
'en hell — died last night; if you don't believe 
me ask Melby ; been diggin' a grave up t' Sher- 



52 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

burnville. Funeral 's goin' to be this after- 
noon." 

Although it was in the dead of winter and 
exceedingly cold, the boys of the old frontier 
town proved themselves loyal to the memory 
of the old trapper and turned out in force. It 
was a cold, dreary drive over frozen roads 
that were rough and bumpy, first to the "Gar- 
den of Eden," where the remains of Old Dan 
were loaded onto a wagon, and thence to the 
cemetery at Sherburnville. On arriving at 
the cemetery a single glance at the undis- 
turbed snow clad surface disclosed the fact 
that no grave had, as yet, been dug. After a 
short deliberation it was decided to dig one 
then and there. Men cleared with their feet 
a space in the snow and then gathered timber 
from the nearby woods and made a roaring 
fire. This was made necessary from the fact 
that the ground was frozen to a depth of two 
and a half to three feet, and was as hard as 
steel. 

So, the wood was piled on, and while the 
process of thawing out the ground was go- 
ing on, the friends of Old Dan gathered close 
and absorbed the genial heat and thawed out 
also, and when their chattering teeth had 
been stilled sufficiently to admit of coherent 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 53 

speech, the things they said about the man 
who had fallen down in the funeral arrange- 
ments were hardly fit for a respectable bar- 
room, to say nothing of a solemn occasion 
such as a funeral. 

The work of thawing out the ground and 
digging the grave consumed much time, dur- 
ing which the members of the funeral party 
worked in shifts, carrying wood for the fire 
or taking a hand at the spade. The grave 
was finished at last, not a grave of regulation 
depth, but sufficient under the circumstances, 
so the crowd thought, and the remains of the 
old trapper were deposited therein. The com- 
mitment of "dust to dust" is always a solemn 
act whether the body goes shriven or unshriv- 
en into eternal rest, and a hush fell upon the 
little group huddled about the yawning grave. 
After a pause, they looked one to another, 
awkwardly, inquiringly, not knowing just 
what was expected of them in the emergency, 
and then, one by one they removed their hats 
as if by a common impulse and for a moment 
bared their heads to the chilling blast, while 
the winter winds intoned a requiem in the tops 
of the nearby woods. 



54 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

"UNCLE BILLY" NICHOLS COLLECTS 
FOR A HAM 

Grandfather William Nichols, known 
throughout the community of Momence as 
"Uncle Billy/' was a square-toed, upstanding 
individual whose reputation for truth, verac- 
ity and square-dealing was proverbial He 
was a powerful man physically, standing six 
feet four in his stocking feet, of the lean, ran- 
gy type, and, notwithstanding his genial^ ur- 
bane manner, was a dangerous individual to 
try and "run a sandy on," as they sometimes 
used to do in the old days of the frontier. John- 
nie Marshall, who used to run a saloon on the 
west side of Range street, three or four doors 
south of the corner, bought a ham from 
"Uncle Billy" one day, a regular honest4o- 
goodness old fashioned, sugar-cured smoke- 
house ham such as everybody used to have in 
the days before they ever dreamed of paint- 
ing them with "liquid smoke." The ham was 
duly delivered and in the course of a week or 
two "Uncle Billy" dropped into Marshall's 
place to collect for it. 

Marshall's place was a one-story frame 
building something over fifty feet in length 
which stood, in the opinion of many of the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 55 

older citizens, about where the Parish bank is 
today. The Marshall saloon was a popular 
place in its day. The distinguishing feature 
of the building was its floor. That floor con- 
veyed to the casual visitor a sense of primi- 
tive antiquity as nothing else could. This floor 
was laid with elegant black walnut slabs 
twelve feet in length, three inches thick and 
from eighteen to twenty-four inches in width ! 
Can you imagine it? These black walnut 
slabs were the product of the local saw-mill 
in a day when virgin timber was drawn upon 
without stint. In the early days white oak 
lumber was more highly esteemed than walnut 
and who knows but that the saw-mill man 
may have congratulated himself on "putting 
over" something clever when he unloaded this 
bunch of walnut for Johnnie Marshall's floor 
instead of good, white oak plank. That wal- 
nut floor alone, in this day, would represent 
a small fortune. The place was chiefly famous 
as possessing the only pigeon-hole table in 
the Eastern Illinois of that day. 

Marshall was standing behind the bar 
when "Uncle Billy" happened in. Evidently 
something had gone wrong with him that day 
for, when "Uncle Billy" mentioned that he 
had come to collect for the ham, Marshall flar- 



56 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ed up and exclaimed : "Say, old man, that was 
the rottenest ham I ever had in my life. You 
don't think I am going to pay for it, do you?" 
Instead of argument there was action on the 
part of "Uncle Billy." His long right arm 
swung like a mill-sweep over that bar and his 
hand gathered in its capacious grasp coat, vest 
shirt, nether garment and everything in the 
region of the small of the back with the grip of 
a Cyclops. An upward heave of the arm and 
along came Johnnie Marshall head first over 
his own bar, only to be dropped face down- 
ward in a heap on the floor. With his foot 
"Uncle Billy rolled him over on his back and, 
looking down upon the recumbent figure with 
a calm, unruffled air, he remarked: "So, the 
ham was spiled, was it, Johnnie? Couldn't 
use it at all, I suppose?" 

"Well, n-n-no, it wasn't exactly spiled, 
"Uncle Billy," replied the humbled Johnnie; 
and, and, uh, come to think on it, we used it all 
and it was pretty tolerable good." Johnny had 
risen to a sitting posture by this time and was 
further aided by Uncle Billy, who got him by 
the coat collar and lifted him to his feet. Still 
retaining his hold on the coat collar he re- 
marked: "That 'ere ham was about as good 
a ham as you ever had, wasn't it, Johnnie?" 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 57 

"Yes," acknowledged Johnnie, "that 'ere was 
a good ham; as near as I kin recollect, that 
was as good a ham as I ever had !" And with 
this acknowledgement of the excellence of the 
goods, Uncle Billy released his hold while 
Johnnie Marshall circled the end of the bar 
and extracted from the till one dollar and fif- 
ty cents, coin of the realm, which was the 
proper tariff on a fifteen-pound ham of that 
day at ten cents per pound, and handed it over 
with profuse apologies for his action. Uncle 
Billy grimly pocketed the money and made 
straight for the door, and Johnnie Marshall, 
still rattled and flustered at the rapidity with 
which the events we have narrated took place, 
forgot to say good-by to the retreating figure, 
or ask him to come again. 



58 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



"THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT" 

Let us say at the outset that we are not 
trespassing on the domain of the ancient, well 
loved nursery tales for a story. The title, 
however, is peculiarly applicable, since the 
early-day pioneers of Yellowhead so desig- 
nated the habitation of a lone Pottawattomie 
Indian who made his home there for years. 
Mr. William Stratton recalls that many years 
ago up in Yellowhead township, a single strag- 
gler of the once numerous band of the Pot- 
tawattomi of the Prairie and the Kankakee 
who had formerly occupied that section, made 
his home on an eighty-acre "float." He was 
known as "Jack-Built," for short, and his 
place was about a mile and a half south of 
the Perry Stratton place, or "Yellowhead 
Point" where old chief Yellowhead formerly 
had his village. 

Here he struggled manfully, though un- 
successfully, to adapt himself to the ways of 
the white man. Here he labored industrious- 
ly for a time and cleared a little circular spot 
in the timber whereupon to raise his corn and 
pumpkins. Here, also, he reared a pitiful lit- 
tle shack whose lines followed more nearly 
the peculiar design of the aboriginal "tepee," 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 59 

even though he had at first fondly hoped to 
follow that of his white brother. A notable 
achievement of Jack's was when he planted 
an apple tree within the clearing in the woods. 
Someone, somewhere, gave him an apple tree 
one day and he planted it according to direc- 
tions. It laid hold of the soil with its roots 
and grew and thrived, to Jack's great delight. 
Such was the response of this tree to the 
scant effort Jack extended that, in the course 
of the years it bore bountifully of an indiffer- 
ent sort of fruit. 

But, to Jack, this tree of the white man's 
was "great Medicine." When asked why he 
did not plant more apple trees, Indian Jack 
replied stolidly, "One tree make heap plenty." 
And the terse reply suggests one important 
deduction, viz: when you have enough, why 
worry about more. That peculiar phase of 
Indian philosophy which regards only to- 
day, and takes no thought of the morrow, was 
noticeable in all the varied activities by which 
Indian Jack sought to emulate the white man. 
There were days in the spring and early sum- 
mer when his corn patch would have profited 
immensely had he gone into it with a hoe. The 
pumpkins and melons did not prosper for the 
same reason. When it rained, one could not 



60 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

be expected to do these things very well, and 
on those days when the sun shone high in the 
heavens there was the call of magnificent 
woodland aisles, flecked with leafy shade and 
sunshine, where the Great Spirit of the an- 
cient Pottawattomi lurked and sang the old, 
old songs that grip one so, and beckoned, beck- 
oned enticingly that one lone red child to 
throw off the self-imposed shackles of the 
white man and be free. Little wonder, then, 
that instead of tending corn he set primitive 
snares for the wily mink on the edge of dark 
pools; likewise in the runways of the musk- 
rat. He stalked the paths of the forest and 
was rewarded now and then when his ready 
arrow brought down a deer that still lingered 
in its home in the hazel copses, or a wild goose 
or mallard that sought the nearby water. 

In the "moon of bright nights," which, 
in the Indian calendar is the month of April, 
it was then the breath of Shawandasee, "the 
South Wind," fell upon the woodland warm 
and languorous ; when wild flowers opened al- 
most over-night; when buds swelled and the 
sweet sap of the maple oozed from the bruis- 
ed spots on their rugged trunks. And Indian 
Jack, sensing this quickening tide in the realm 
of nature sat outside his shack while the night 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 61 

enfolded him, and calmly and complacently 
he smoked, smoked the tobacco of the white 
man mixed with "songshasha," or dried bark 
of the red willow, and watched the stars and 
the moon and the drift of the night flights of 
the wild geese northward that appeared first 
as a small cloud and then vanished on the hor- 
izon like wisps of mist. As he sat thus, there 
were thoughts doubtless of the hordes of pick- 
erel and sturgeon that, even then, were mov- 
ing upstream in quest of the shallow waters 
of the upper swamps. The whole realm of 
nature was astir with its latent life and at 
such times Indian Jack was conscious of a feel- 
ing of peace and deep content which most 
surely boded ill for the crops of his little clear- 
ing in the timber. To the Indian mind the 
feast of good things was being spread. The 
season of plenty with ease was on. That 
charm which Indian Jack found so all-engross- 
ing in a time like this, is, perhaps, best ex- 
pressed in a bit of vagrant verse — 

"In the April moonlight, 
Or when frost is white 
Upon the hill, 
We'll hunt and We'll rest 
When it pleases us best 
Whenever we will." 



62 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Indian Jack was known to be friendly 
though taciturn, and frequently the boys of 
the neighborhood would turn out and visit 
him at his shack and vainly endeavor to en- 
gage him in conversation. An occasional 
"ugh," and a shrug was about as far as they 
ever got with him in the discussion of the af- 
fairs of the frontier. He made it clear, how- 
ever, that he enjoyed hearing their conver- 
sation. By the older settlers of the neigh- 
borhood Jack's place was known as the 
"House That Jack Built." This title in time 
proved too unwieldly and the term "Jack 
Built" was substituted and meant Indian 
Jack or Jack's place as the case might be. For 
many years "Jack Built" continued to occupy 
his shack in the little clearing but, as the coun- 
try settled up, the game grew scarcer and his 
interest in the little cleared patch waned al- 
most to the point of complete extinction. If it 
had not been that his pioneer friends were 
good to him, he would have most surely 
suffered from hunger. There came a day at 
last when Jack was missed from the environs 
of "The House That Jack Built." Why he left 
after all these years of endeavor no one ever 
knew, for Indian Jack kept his own counsel 
and rarely if ever confided his plans and pur- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



poses to anyone. Quietly he found a buyer for 
his "float." Quietly he gathered together 
those few things necessary to an Indian when 
he takes "the long trail," after which he turn- 
ed his back on "The House That Jack Built," 
whether with regret or not we may not say, 
but guiding his pony into the trail that lays 
towards the setting sun, he followed his peo- 
ple. The pioneer settlers in the town of Yel- 
lowhead, those who knew Indian Jack best, 
diagnosed the case as that of "Homesick In- 
dian," and nothing more. 



64 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



HOSS-RACING DAYS IN OLD MOMENCE 

In the old days on the Kankakee river 
there wasn't a sport, a game — anything in 
the way of fun — that could not be found at 
the pioneer settlement of old Momence. Talk 
about your "wide-open towns" — right here is 
where that popular term was "coined." Many 
of your so-called "wide-open" towns of today 
are merely cheap and tawdry imitations such 
as would pall on the spirit of a real, dyed-in- 
the-wool Momence resident of sixty years ago, 
and give him a pain and a feeling akin to nau- 
sea. The reader should take care to remem- 
ber that Momence was one of the earliest 
settlements on the river in Eastern Illinois. 
Her history harks back to the early thirties — 
a good ways back when one ponders on it. 
The Indian was here for, at that time, he had 
just consented to yield his domain to the 
"Great White Father" and, in consequence 
had a three-year margin under the treaty to 
stay or go as he chose. Apparently, he chose 
to stay. Mingled with these aborigines were 
white hunters and trappers, Frenchmen main- 
ly, in that early day, with now and then one 
from down on the Wabash, in Indiana. These 
men who have given substance to the nation's 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 65 

history invested it also with an indiscribable 
charm and color. These early-day men of the 
buckskin shirt and coon-skin cap, stood 
straight, talked straight, shot straight and, 
above all other things, took their whiskey 
straight. 

Although it is generally conceded that 
there is nothing to be said in favor of whis- 
key on the whole, there is one thing to be said 
in favor of this old-time whiskey of the fron- 
tier, and that is, while it sometimes left its pa- 
tron with a large-sized headache, it did not 
make him crazy altogether, as does the doubt- 
ful product of today. Among the pastimes 
that found favor in the eyes of this pictures- 
que assemblage of frontier types, were the 
American game of poker, boxing, wrestling, 
foot racing and the like varied now and then 
by an honest-to-goodness fight. During the 
fifties and the sixties, with the coming of the 
settlers, horse-racing fbecame the dominant 
sport, and few there were within the imme- 
diate environs of Momence who did not pos- 
sess a quarter or half-mile horse. Many of 
these horses in the vernacular of the frontier 
were rated as "right likely critters." Every 
Saturday there was a gathering of the clans 
at Momence to witness some special racing 



66 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

event. Following this main event, generally, 
would occur anywhere from ten to a dozen 
races matched on the spur of the moment be- 
tween the owners of quarter and half-mile 
horses, who, cheered by the sport, and keyed 
to the point of optimism by generous drinks 
of whiskey, backed their favorites with all 
their worldly goods. Oh, there was nothing 
niggardly, no note of caution in the support 
these old-time boys gave to the "hoss" of 
their choice. 

In that day of the late sixties, here and 
there a settler indulged in the luxury of a 
spring-seat for his lumber wagon. The spring- 
seat was viewed with envious eyes by those 
whose limited fortunes made it not only advis- 
able but necessary to ride the "puncheon" 
board laid across the wagon-box. There was 
a lure to the spring-seat and, when the betting 
became brisk and spirited, a spring-seat serv- 
ed admirably as a final resource when the 
owner thereof had become reduced in ready 
funds. Many a spring-seat changed hands in 
those days on the result of a race. In con- 
sequence of this sporting proclivity on the 
part of early-day Momence citizens, the place 
was known far and wide by members of the 
sporting fraternity generally. For some years 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 67 

a gambler from the outside by the name of 
Manahan, made regular visits here. His spec- 
ialty was poker. Manahan was a squat, thick- 
set individual with a benign and ingratiating 
personalty. He wore invariably brown denim 
trousers, the legs of which were thrust non- 
chalantly into the tops of brown Morocco 
leather boots, a la pioneer. For many years 
he successfully clipped dividends from the 
bank rolls of unsuspecting pilgrims after the 
manner of his kind. 

One day, it may have been round about 
1870, a rather seedy looking outfit consist- 
ing of a team hitched to a light wagon, drove 
into Momence from, the south and stopped be- 
fore the old stone saloon that adjoined the 
Central House. Hitched to the rear of the 
wagon was a little bay mare. The man in 
charge — well, there was nothing extraordin- 
ary about him except that he was of a some- 
what nervous temperament and had exceed- 
ingly sharp, gray eyes, deep set and obscured 
by heavy, bushy eyebrows. He made his way 
into the bar and called for whiskey in rather 
an ostentatious manner. He not only called 
for one but several whiskies within the space 
of a few minutes, during which he made it 
known by way of a general statement to that 



68 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

effect, that he had a "hoss" that could do a 
quarter-mile so neatly and handily that he 
made most of his competitors look like they 
were anchored to the ground. 

Of course, the crowd was interested on 
the instant, and of course, there were those 
who recalled that citizen Jake Hess owned 
what was conceded to be, the best quarter- 
"hoss" in all the country round about. Amid 
a good deal of stir and excitement, Hess was 
sent for, and, on his arrival, the crowd and 
the stranger moved out to where the team was 
standing and there, in the harness, stood a 
little roan horse with harness marks deeply 
cut into the hair of neck and shoulders and 
sides. This animal, the stranger stoutly af- 
firmed, could beat anything they had in a 
quarter-mile go, at least he had $250 that said 
so. Hess hurriedly took in the animal with 
his practiced eye, and then as hurriedly match- 
ed the stranger for $250 a side. There was a 
perfect hubbub of excitement as the crowd 
moved on to the west side of town to that 
main east and west road which, for years had 
served as a track for these impromptu equine 
events. Arriving at the place the stranger 
peeled the harness from the roan horse and 
then announced that he would ride the ani- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 69 

mal himself, much to the surprise of the 
crowd. After some preliminary scoring the 
horses got away down the stretch, and, almost 
from the first the Hess mare ran away from 
her adversary. It was a pretty bad defeat; 
even the stranger was obliged to admit that. 
There was great rejoicing, however, 
among the native population of Momence, 
whose sporting traditions thus remained un- 
impaired, and on the return of the crowd 
to town they sought out the old stone saloon, 
there to talk it over and drink a bumper or 
two to the health of the Hess mare meanwhile. 
The stranger accompanied them. Apparent- 
ly he was a good loser — one who was game 
all the way through. As he stood at the bar 
with Hess he talked volubly and paid a hand- 
some tribute to the performance of the Hess 
mare. "Why," said he, as he put down the 
glass, "that hoss of yourn got up and hump- 
ed himself jest like a skeered ghost ahead of 
a streak of double-geared lightninM I ain't 
never been so beat in sizin' up a hoss in all 
my life ! You won all right, mister — you won !" 
There was another round of drinks. The 
crowd found the situation much to their liking. 
The owner of the victorious horse felt a de- 
lightful glow that had the effect of deepening 



70 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

the pink in his cheeks and caused the mois- 
ture to stand out comfortably on his forehead. 
He was conscious, also, of an increasing chest 
expansion as the merits of his horse were so 
generously acknowledged by the vanquished. 

Altogether the situation was opportune, 
auspicious, although with our deeper know- 
ledge of the mysteries of psycho analysis, it 
would have been spoken of in this day as the 
"psychological moment," one that a person 
with dark, ulterior motives, would have 
seized upon quickly and with confidence. That 
the stranger was an adept in sizing up just 
such situations there can be no doubt. Very 
much to the surprise of everyone present, he 
proposed another trial of speed with the Hess 
mare and the little bay mare that followed de- 
murely at the tail of the wagon. "I'll lay five 
hundred on her," said he, "with just one con- 
dition, and that is that she be permitted to 
run the heat without any rider whatever!" 
The crowd gasped. Could he mean it? Surely 
the whiskey he had partaken of had gone to 
his head ! Hess snapped at the offer amid the 
applause and congratulations of the onlookers. 
The money was put up, and again the crowd 
repaired to the track west of town. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 71 

There is a different tale we have to tell 
concerning this second trial of speed. It is a 
tale in which there is no element of joy or 
pleasure for such as risked their money on the 
local horse. There were things that took place 
at that second race of which the sober sec- 
ond-thought and judgment of the crowd took 
no note until long after it was too late. Most 
notable among the things that happened— 
that incident which, perhaps, was most signif- 
icant of disaster — was when a stranger 
mounted to the top of the nearby "stake-and 
rider fence" and, opening a large leather bag, 
containing money, announced that he was then 
and there prepared to lay any amount on the 
riderless horse. Even then the crowd asked 
no questions but surged about the mysterious 
stranger as he stood on his precarious perch, 
and registered many a bet of five or ten or 
twenty, and not a few larger amounts than 
that. Our informant, as he pictured the scene 
in his mind's eye, remarked : "I kin see 'im 
yet." Hence you may know, dear reader, that 
this individual was a real entity and not a fa- 
brication. 

The horses, for sometime in readiness for 
the race, were held in abeyance until the bet- 
ting populace had been duly accommodated. 



72 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

As for the race itself, there is not much to be 
said. It was short, sharp and decisive — es- 
pecially the latter. The demure, docile little 
mare that followed the tail-end of the wagon, 
meek and lamb-like, was a whirlwind. Noth- 
ing less would have done her justice. She 
crossed the mark lengths ahead of the Hess 
mare and, at a word from her master, slowed 
down and turned and trotted up to him, and 
then the crowd knew that she had been train- 
ed to the business. And by that sign, too, 
they also realized that they had been most ar- 
tistically "flim-flammed." 

There was a good deal of liquor consum- 
ed by that crowd on their return to the old 
stone saloon. Tradition has it that each fel- 
low bought his own. Those who could not 
buy, "stood-off" the bar-tender. They who 
could neither "buy" nor "stand-off" the "bar- 
keeper," endured the pangs of pitiless drought 
amid a gloom which resembled that in "Mudd- 
ville," after "the mighty Casey had struck 
out." Tradition further insists that this was 
the most complete and artistic "skinning" ev- 
er perpetrated on a sporting community in 
all the history of Kankakee county. Days af- 
ter it was recalled that the man with the seedy 
looking outfit and the mysterious stranger 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 7o 

with the bag full of money worked with fev- 
erish haste, and within a few minutes after 
the race were hitting the highway north out 
of town. The last ever seen of the seedy 
looking outfit it was still moving north over 
the highway and, lo and behold, there sat in 
the seat with the driver, the now familiar 
form of the erstwhile mysterious stranger, 
holding on his knees and hugging closely an 
old leather bag whose sides bulged with a 
goodly quantity of Momence "Kale." And, ap- 
parently, these two were not strangers. 



74 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

THE LAST ENCAMPMENT OF THE 
INDIANS 

The Hon. Clark Brown, of Union, Mis- 
souri, a member of the Missouri legislature, 
formerly a resident of Momence, has shown 
his deep interest and appreciation of the work 
undertaken by the writer to preserve that 
which is worth while in the lives of the early 
day settlers, by furnishing us the following 
incident. 

"The greatest return of the children of 
the prairies to a last view of their old hunt- 
ing grounds, was when the report came, in the 
summer of 1853, that a tribe of Indians had 
come back and encamped in Bourbonnais 
Grove. 

Quite a company from our neighborhood, 
east of the grove, decided to go down and 
see the Indians. Some went in buggies, and 
some on horseback, and the seeing was well 
worth the going. On a platform of light poles 
two feet above the ground in an open spot in 
LeVasseur's sugar grove, the old chief and his 
squaw were squatted amid their blankets and 
other belongings. I remember that "Injun" 
as the largest squab of human flesh and fat 
I ever saw. His weight must have been four 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 75 

hundred pounds or more. We saw no efforts 
upon his part to stand on his feet that day. 
His clothing consisted of one garment, a large 
sheet of canvas, seemingly, which buttoned 
about his neck, enveloping him in its ample 
folds. It might have been considered the or- 
iginal' of the "Mother Hubbard." 

The old couple seemed to take much pride 
in each other, she taking pains with the little 
rat- tail braids with a few strands of white 
hair mixed with his black hair that hung from 
the eaves of his formidable head. Both chat- 
tered or grunted freely with the company 
which paid them the most attention during 
the day. The rest of the thirty or forty mem- 
bers of the tribe were in tepees, or brush 
wigwams, arranged in a circle at some dis- 
tance f rom their chief. But little shelter was 
required in a summer encampment. 

Their toilet was lacking altogether in 
style. All efforts at clothing were a conglom- 
erate mixture— no two alike — of white man's 
and aboriginal dress. One article, the blank- 
et, prevailed quite generally with the women. 
But there was a variety of styles when it 
came to wearing them. With some the blank- 
et would be suspended from the loins, while 
others spread it over their shoulders. The split 



76 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

skirt had not then come into style, and their 
blankets were not sufficiently ample in di- 
mensions to permit of much of a "split." 

Apparently, the girls as they approached 
the stage of womanhood, had their hair plait- 
ed into one long braid, and with many, this 
braid was, at regular intervals of several in- 
ches, pounded full of mud or moist clay which 
dried and staid hard. This not only held the 
hair from coming down but was an aid to or- 
namentation, feathers and beads being lavish- 
ly used. One thing that spoke well for the 
tribe, there were no evidences of cross-breed- 
ing. All had the same degree of "smoked ba- 
con" complexion, the same coarse, black hair. 

Not many of the tribe, between the old 
chief and the children and youths with their 
bows and arrows with which they shot the 
big copper pennies from a split stick set in 
the ground, seemed desirous of cultivating 
the acquaintance of the visitors. No doubt 
they all could make use of our language if 
they had so desired, but they seemed not in- 
clined to discuss the latest fashions nor dis- 
posed to relate the neighborhood gossip, even 
if such things are the admitted prerogative 
of "the female of the species." 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 77 

There were other echoes also from the 
west side of the great river. Momence, like a 
few others, had selected a reservation, and 
seemingly with very good judgment. Mo- 
mence, it should be borne in mind, was an 
Indian chief. We might say it consisted of a 
piece of the Kankakee river embracing the is- 
land, on which was once a grist mill, and quite 
an extent of shore on either side of the river. 
By this time, no doubt, the whole site is oc- 
cupied by the city of Momence. The writer 
once had the pleasure of an interview during 
a railroad ride with this original proprietor. 
He was a large, well porportioned Indian, 
dressed in white man's fashion. This was his 
last visit to his old range on the Kankakee. 
Probably, Indian-like, he had been accused of 
selling his reservation to two parties. We 
never heard how the courts decided the own- 
ership." 



78 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



MOMENCE INCORPORATES 

Momence took steps to incorporate as a 
village nearly three-quarters of a century ago. 
At that time the little settlement of the river 
had near unto two hundred souls, five or six 
stores and several small industries. The 
truth is, Momence was a smug, tight little bor- 
der settlement of substance while Kankakee 
was still an infant in swaddling clothes, 
"mewling and spewing in its nurse's arms." 
There are no records extant relating to this 
momentous event, sad to say. The memory of 
the old-time pioneer holds all there is to be said 
about it. It is generally conceded that the ef- 
fort to incorporate took place about the year 
1853, some time after the election held to lo- 
cate the county-seat of the newly organized 
county of Kankakee, the disastrous outcome 
of which, disappointing to the hopes and am- 
bitions of Momence, has been set forth in a 
previous volume of stories of early days. Mo- 
mence as a "border town" retained her chief 
characteristics in this respect for many a 
year. Her people, originally, were the real, 
dyed-in-the-wool frontier type, and were rest- 
less and sensitive to a degree of restraints 
imposed by law or the customs of civilization. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 79 

These old-town men were positive giants ! 
Scarcely a man of them measured less than 
six feet, and many of them were taller than 
that! Naturally they were possessed of a grit 
and a brawn that made them formidable in 
case of personal encounter. 

The life of the old town of the border was 
one of internecine strife in a day when a 
mere difference of opinion, if nothing more, 
sufficed to start hostilities. Bill Graham and 
Dan Parmlee, two backwoods giants fell out 
one day and in the fight that ensued, Graham 
seized a neck-yoke that chanced to be lying 
close by and nearly brained his adversary 
with it. That old Dan lived at all, after this 
savage onslaught, was one of the wonders. 
But frontier skulls were made to stand hard 
knocks. For months afterwards, when Parm- 
lee came to town, it was noticed that he did 
not bring his rifle with him. It seemed strange 
for the two were inseparable, ordinarily. Ask- 
ed one day about it and why he did not car- 
ry it as of yore, old Dan replied in his char- 
acteristic way: "Wal, its like this; if I had 
that thar rifle with me and happened to run 
across Bill Graham at the same time, by God 
Pd kill 'im ! Yes I would— sure as Adam and 
Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. Me and Bill 



80 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

used to be purty good friends, and he ain't 
such a bad feller anyway. Mebbe if Fd got 
hold of that neck-yoke fust — well, anyway 
I leave the old rifle home so's old Dan won't 
do anything hasty, besides, old Dan's purty 
good yit, if wust comes to wust!" 

It was always a sport-loving community, 
this little, backwoods settlement of the Kan- 
kakee, whose people, of the stature and en- 
dowed with the brawn of giants, instead of 
being occupied with the more serious things 
of life, leaned rather to the sports and games 
and trifling things which made up, in large 
part, the life of wilderness days. Envy and 
avarice had not laid hold of the hearts and 
consciences of these people in that day. It 
was a generation born to the corn-pone and 
the hickory shirt, in which no element of 
superiority of race or breeding was acknowl- 
edged except the superiority of physical 
force. The "best man" in every community 
held his head high. He had a right to, for 
his quality had been subjected to the acid test 
of many and many a battle. The marshmen 
and the woodsmen, and the men of the river 
and the prairies all loved to congregate at 
Momence, for there their fun-loving natures 
always found that which was a joy to the soul. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 81 

Every other man, in that day, had a 
"race-hoss," and over on the western edge of 
town, just opposite the present city limits, 
was the track over which they ran. Here, in 
the heat of excitement, a man often bet every- 
thing he had in the world, even to the buck- 
skin shirt on his back or the more treasured 
"spring-seat," that later graced the lumber- 
wagon and bespoke a prosperity quite in ad- 
vance of the generality of frontier folk. Af- 
ter the "hoss-race" there would be foot-races, 
a wrestling match, a boxing bout or two, a 
cock-fight — anything — even a dog fight. And, 
at the bare mention of dogs, the pioneer mem- 
ory recalls that, on one memorable occasion, 
two perfectly staid and well-behaved hounds 
of the "lop-eared" species, followed their re- 
spective masters to the festivities held in old 
Momence and, becoming imbued with the spir- 
it and enthusiasm of the times, lit into one an- 
other in a regular rough-and-tumble fight. 
The crowd was interested and bet liberally on 
the outcome of the fight. All might have 
been well and the "finger that writes," might 
have remained inert and motionless had not 
one of the men whose dog was getting some- 
what the worst of the battle, kicked the op- 
posing dog heavily in the jowl. As a result 



82 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

of this impulsive, ill-considered act, there en- 
sued a fight instanter between the respective 
owners of the dogs, and, if the pioneer mem- 
ory may be relied upon, "it was a scrap worth 
going miles to see." 

Not only that; for a time there was im- 
minent danger that the whole masculine pop- 
ulation was going to btecome involved, for 
each man had his friends and the spirit of 
fair-play and partisan rivalry ruled a formid- 
able factor in the affairs of men of the border. 
The frontiersman who thus so whole-heartedly 
upheld the rights and reputation of his dog 
was about six feet four in his stockings. Af- 
ter severely chastising his adversary, he push- 
ed his way into the backwoods saloon follow- 
ed by an admiring flock of partisans and, as 
he leaned upon the bar, he murmured to the 
bar-tender: "Gimme a drink! It tires me to 
fight!" 

That which we have related in the fore- 
going is necessary if one is to understand and 
fully appreciate the spirit and temper of a 
people who, confronted by a proposition to 
incorporate as a village, found themselves 
unable to agree, with any sort of unanimity, 
as to the benefits of such incorporation. Most 
of them felt that it meant a surrender of in- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 83 

dividual rights such as they had enjoyed in 
the past, a curtailing of the old, wide-open, 
free-and-easy life which was so greatly en- 
joyed when the habitues of the river and 
woods and prairies took a day off. "Give me 
liberty, or give me death," is a slogan which 
first had its inception in the hearts and minds 
of just such men as these. We are told that 
the first fight over the proposition to incor- 
porate took place in 1853, and that it was a 
fight sure enough. There were hatreds en- 
gendered at that time that lived and smould- 
ered and flared forth now and then for many 
and many a year. After the lapse of nearly 
seventy-five years the high-lights and salient 
points of this particular picture of border days 
have faded into nothingness. The fight was 
a bitter one, it is true, but one can scarcely 
get head or tail of it. In some quarters it is 
said that it was a conflict of "the new com- 
ers" against the old-timers," a conflict of 
"new ideas" against "old," an arraying of the 
growing church element against these primi- 
tive types of the border, in order to control 
them, if only in a small way, and restrain the 
wild and hilarious spirit that so readily mani- 
fested itself whenever they met Elder Burr, 
the circuit rider, was prominently identified 



84 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

as a leader of the forces for incorporation. He 
was threatened, secretly and openly, by the 
more headstrong of the opposing side. But he 
went his way, calm, imperturable, temperate 
of manner in his support of the incorporation 
project, yet firm and unyielding as a rock in 
his purpose. 

As a result of this early-day battle of the 
ballots in old Momence, the proposition to in- 
corporate won by a small vote, surprising as 
it may seem. There were hatreds and per- 
sonal dislikes and jealousies that registered in 
this first election. The result was hardly a 
genuine reflex of the real, underlying senti- 
ment in the minds of the voters. They had 
"got even" with someone, that's all. Momence 
set out uncertainly upon the new municipal 
life called for by ordinances and state laws. 
The very first levying of a corporation tax 
occasioned a roar of protest on the part of 
both the "fors" and "against." With the is- 
suance of the decree of "poll-tax" on every 
male head of voting age within the corpor- 
ation, there came positive rebellion. They 
would not pay three dollars, neither would 
they work in lieu of not paying, upon the 
streets of the village. On this they were united 
— unanimous — for once in their lives. Our 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 85 

friends who had supported so whole-heartedly 
this move towards civilization were as unruly, 
as boisterous and rantankerous as a two-year 
old Texas steer when he first feels the rope 
tighten on his neck. The newly elected of- 
ficers, swelled with a proper sense of their 
importance and the dignity of office, on find- 
ing their orders disregarded by the populace, 
proceeded to make an example of some of the 
more prominent of the objectors and, in ef- 
fect, undertook to "hog-tie" and "brand" them 
as undesirable citizens. The majesty of the 
newborn authority of statutes and ordinances 
was invoked and the recalcitrants were pro- 
perly sued and properly found guilty of a dis- 
regard for the mandates of the law as admin- 
istered by its officers. 

Though they were found guilty they 
would not pay, and the remaining alternative, 
that of working, they spurned as something 
beneath the consideration of freemen. By 
this act they added to the sum total of their 
delinquencies that of lese-majeste, which is 
most serious indeed, except in cases where 
frontiersmen are concerned. The municipal- 
ity, at that time, had not achieved financial 
prosperity sufficient to enable it to have a 
calaboose, and the village marshal would 



86 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

have as quickly considered suicide as he would 
an order to arrest and incarcerate these bor- 
der men who resented corporate encroach- 
ment on their personal liberties. In the end, 
several of these cases were appealed to high- 
er courts, and there, apparently, the matter 
dropped. Under such discouraging circum- 
stances was organized law ushered into the 
old river settlement of Momence. This sub- 
stitution of the new order for the old lived 
but a day, and then slowly but surely with- 
ered and faded away completely, so that for 
several years following this attempt at incor- 
poration, the place knew no other law but that 
of the border — f orce. It was not until the late 
fifties that incorporation became a recognized 
fact, and round about 1860, when the trustees 
put into effect an ordinance restraining the 
cows of the villagers from running at large, it 
was then that citizen Peter Terrill was mov- 
ed to observe to Justice M. 0. Clark: "It do 
beat all how there's always more damn fools 
than smart men!" 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



87 




This is a Photographic Reproduction of a Section 
of aj Famous Coverlet of Pioneer Days, Made by 
Mrs. Maria Gundy Nichols, Wife of "William 
Nichols, one of the Earliest Pioneers. It is an 
Intricate "Two-Color" Design and a Work of 
Art. It was Made on what was Known as a 
"Double Loom, Situated in a Log Cabin Across 
the Road Prom the Present Home of Mrs. Malinda 
Nichols, Northeast of Momence. The Pattern is 
White and Blue, and Mrs. Maria Nichols Carded, 
Spun and Colored the Wool Used in the weaving. 
It was Made Some Years Prior to Her Death, 
Which Occurred in 1838. 



88 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

AN ANCIENT HUNTING GROUND 

I. 

Momence, as a frontier town, was most 
happily situated on the outskirts of one of 
the finest hunting grounds in all the middle 
west— famous Beaver Lake. If we are to be- 
lieve fully the testimony of men who lived 
here and hunted and trapped and fished in 
primeval days, before the destructive blight 
of so-called civilization had fallen upon the 
land, the great marshes of the Kankakee sur- 
passed in extent and prodigal abundance any 
other spot in the United States. Where the 
Kankakee emerges from across the state-line 
of Indiana into Illinois, after miles on miles 
of tortuous turnings and twistings, it pauses 
for a space and disposes its flood in quiet laby- 
rinthine channels among islands, overflowing 
into shady nooks and shallow bayous and 
marshes. 

Seventy-five years ago these islands were 
heavily timbered as was, also, much of the ad- 
jacent high ground. Fortunately much of this 
timber still remains to delight the eye. Here 
may be found giant patriarchs grimly holding 
their ground — oaks, walnuts, glorious elms 
and the stately sycamore. In this day of the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 89 

twentieth century the bayous and marshes 
have been curtailed in their dimensions but, 
for the most part, are still fringed about by 
dense growths of black ash, "elbow brush," 
"pucker brush," alder and willows, with now 
and then a copse of pale, white birch so dis- 
posed that they gleam in the winter moon- 
light like the dainty columns of some secret 
dryad temple of the wild. 

In the early days points up the river from 
Momence were designated as Little Yellow 
Banks, Big Yellow Banks, Hess' Slough, The 
Garden of Eden, Indian Garden; and from 
the state-line, continuing upstream in Indi- 
ana, Black Oak, Huyck's Bayou, The Ox-Bow, 
The Narrows and Blue Grass, or Thayer's 
Landing. Gurdon S. Hubbard had a fur depot 
at Blue Grass for years and, at such times 
when the season's pack was transported to 
Chicago by way of the Hubbard Trail, his men 
brought their furs from Blue Grass down the 
river as far as the famous "Upper Crossing," 
one mile above the present city of Momence, 
and there turned them over to the wilderness 
cavalcade bound for Chicago. These spots are 
historic. They have been the abodes of the 
hunter, trapper and fisherman for a hundred 
years. The historic Kankakee, up-stream in 



90 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Indiana, has suffered irreparable injury of 
late years on account of an ambitious recla- 
mation project which; seeks to divert the wat- 
ers of the Kankakee from their old bed into 
deeper and straighter channels. There are 
places where the bed of the old stream is iso- 
lated — cut-off entirely from the original 
stream by huge ditches, staring, ugly, straight 
as a plummet-line. The shades of LaSalle and 
Tonty would exclaim with righteous indigna- 
tion at the transformation which this ancient 
stream has undergone of late, the stream 
which they first knew as the "Theak-ki-ki," 
beautiful, winding, picturesque in the ex- 
treme. 

There is no more beautiful stretch of riv- 
er in the entire course of the Kankakee than 
that which lies between Momence and the In- 
diana state-line. It is native wilderness con- 
veniently near yet, in a sense, removed from 
the centers of population. Deep in its shad- 
ows the trapper still lingers, and the pale blue 
wood smoke which rises here and there above 
the fringe of timber, proclaims the summer 
home of the habitant with a taint of the pri- 
meval in his blood. These sheltered places 
still harbor the red-bird, the blue-bird, the 
thrush and various other of nature's song- 





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92 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

sters who thrill the heart of the wayfarer 
with a flash of dazzling color, and delight the 
ear with song unchanged and unchanging 
with the years from the earliest day when 
creation dawned. These places are still haunt- 
ed in numbers by the shrewd, lazy, lumbering 
crow, who, from sheer deviltry, preys upon 
the farmer and thus provokes his ire, when 
he could just as easily get his living in the 
woods. Here the blackbird hosts seem undi- 
minished. The wild, sweet note of Bob-White, 
heard once in this wilderness paradise of the 
upper Kankakee, will haunt one to the end of 
his days. The wood-ducks, the mallards, the 
pin-tails and blue-bills as though mindful of 
traditions of the long ago, still patronize these 
charming nooks on the Kankakee between 
Momence and the state-line, not in numbers, it 
is true, but enough so to give an air of real- 
ism to the ancient habitat that was. There is 
a fox taken now and then, a mink, a skunk, 
a family of raccoons. How these dwellers 
of the wild do cling to their own! From the 
deepest and darkest of these sylvan retreats 
a wolf comes forth stealthily, even in this day, 
and raids a neighboring hen-house, notwith- 
standing there is a price on his head. And, 
when he falls at last before the dogs of the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 93 

white man, he loses his scalp but gets from 
three to six lines solid in the local paper. He 
is a member of society more dreaded than the 
"bootlegger," hence his taking off is worthy 
of notice. 

In this nook of remaining wilderness 
above Momence, wherever the shallow waters 
of the Kankakee reach landward and form a 
bayou there, in numbers, appears the quaint 
homes of the musk-rats, built in the shape, 
in the same manner, and of the same mater- 
ials as were used yesterday — (two hundred 
years ago, when the French came down the 
river), or let us say, last week, (a thousand 
years ago), which amounts to the same thing 
in the chronology of the patient, plodding 
rats. Do we weary you with these small de- 
tails of the river wilderness? We hope not. 
Only mankind is fickle and unstable and 
changing in his moods. The dwellers of the 
wild, through instinct, follow an unvarying 
plan of doing things. They rarely or never 
deviate from it. Perhaps you have not been 
impressed by the fact that, from the earliest 
days, the skin of the musk-rat has had a com- 
mercial value, varying of course, with the 
times. In 1849 the trapper would call for a 
drink of whiskey over the backwoods bar at 




A TYPICAL TRAPPER'S CABIN 

It Leans a Little, and its Boards are 
Weathered and Gray, but, if it Lacks in 
Luxury, it has Peace and Quiet and Deep 
Content. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 95 

Momence, and throw down a rat hide in pay- 
ment therefor. "The musk-rat hide was the 
"small change" of the frontier for many and 
many a year. During the late war the price 
of a prime, dark musk-rat skin was six to 
seven dollars. We tell you upon the authority 
of a "shantyman" of the Kankakee whose 
word we respect, that the finest of all musk- 
rat skins used for milady's coat, those skins 
which are dark and glossy and thick, and 
which bespeak elegance, come mainly from 
the bayous and ditches of the great swamp 
region of the Kankakee. It pays sometimes 
to cultivate your next-door neighbor. He 
may not prove to be a college-bred man, but 
he is wise to the little things of the realm in 
which he lives, the possessor of a degree in 
that great university of the out of doors. 

There are huts, habitations of mankind, 
set in this charming bit of up-river wilder- 
ness of today and well-worn paths lead to 
them and away until they lose themselves in 
interminable turnings and twistings. These 
paths, more ancient still than anything the 
wilderness holds except the river itself, were 
made by the feet of the Pottawattomi dwell- 
ers long ago. The man of the city presses re- 
lentlessly upon the outskirts of this wild do- 



96 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

main with his summer home so that the man 
of the hut, appalled at the thought of frater- 
nizing with affluence and luxury, shrinks 
more deeply into the shadow of the sheltered 
spots and turns his back upon it all. You say 
he is peculiar? Well, perhaps so. But, one 
must remember, there is a "kick-back," as 
they used to say in old times, when alluding 
to a man's ancestral lines — a "kick-back" to 
sires who lived by the open fire, out under 
the stars, and who fraternized with the Pot- 
tawattomi and nature. These later-day huts 
lean noticeably and the boards are weathered 
and gray. Within, one will find the stub of 
a candle or a kerosene lamp instead of an elec- 
tric bulb. The library is a newspaper, days 
old. There is a small, rusty stove, a limited 
array of dented tinware — a piece or two of 
crockery, much chipped. There is a breech- 
loading gun and accoutrements, traps, and 
fishing paraphernalia in abundance. This 
habitant of the silent places is not much con- 
cerned in business, political parties and poli- 
cies, or education. That function which would 
be most likely to enlist his presence and in- 
sure his staying up late at night, would be a 
poker party. Generally, he stalls not at a 
glass of whiskey. His most intimate personal 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 97 

accompaniments are a strong, black pipe and a 
hound dog or two with lopping ears, wise as 
their master. In this day he foregoes the pic- 
turesque garb of the hunter and trapper for 
he has outlived the days of buckskin, which 
was the fabric of the frontier, and cotton 
textiles are abundant and cheap. In this bit 
of virgin wild of the Kankakee he lingers for 
a space, the only connecting link between the 
simple life of the old frontier and the flam- 
ing, heedless, headlong luxury of the great 
twentieth century. In another generation he, 
too, will have passed, and among the thous- 
ands who follow there will not be one to take 
his place — the life is too slow ! 

II. 

Above Momence a little way the Kan- 
kakee, as if conscious that the swamps and 
bayous and gleaming yellow sands have been 
left behind, gathers her tide serenely between 
high banks and swings away to the southwest 
in long, graceful, sinuous curves, broadening 
perceptibly and growing in beauty and ma- 
jesty at every mile as she hurries through the 
beautiful vale of the Kankakee to her meet- 
ing with the DesPlaines. The swamps and 



98 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

bayous between Momence and the Indiana 
state-line are but the beginnings of the "Great 
Kankakee Marsh," whose huge dimensions 
numbering thousands upon thousands of 
acres, overspread mile on mile of Indiana ter- 
ritory north and south of the river and east 
of the Indiana line. There were vast open 
stretches of water set with oak-crowned is- 
lands, thousands of acres of shallow marsh 
grown up to cat-tails, wild rice and rushes, 
the nesting ground of the wild, migratory 
hordes of the upper air. From time imme- 
morial this was a famous hunting ground for 
the Miamis, the Wyandottes, the Illinois, and 
more particularly the Pottawattomi of the 
Prairie and the Kankakee, whose domain it 
came at last to be. Abundant evidences of 
Indian occupation are still found in this day 
where the winds, in their play, make eddies 
in the sands of the ridges about the old lake 
bed, revealing an ancient arrow-head, or stone 
axe or other trophy which the practiced eye 
of the modern collector seizes upon and bears 
away in triumph. 

Mr. Edward Hamilton, of Morocco, In- 
diana, after fifty years devoted to this inter- 
esting pursuit, has acquired a most valuable 
and interesting collection of flint and stone 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 99 

implements, indispensable to aboriginal life. 
The collection contains about everything of 
which the Indian made use in his daily life. 
Among the hundreds of arrow-heads, awls, 
drills, mortars, skinning tools, banner-stones 
and ceremonial stones contained in this col- 
lection, the smaller "bird-points," three-quar- 
ters of an inch in length, exquisitely fashioned, 
more often moves the visitor to delighted ex- 
clamation. That these pieces were patiently 
chipped by the native workman by means of 
the notched flint seems at first impossible. 
Whatever the means he employed the ancient 
arrow-maker was a master craftsman who 
carried the secrets of his art with him when 
he passed. These pieces which the sands re- 
veal to us in this day are memorials of an era 
when the Indian reigned supreme in the great 
swamp region. 

When, and by whom, were these retreats 
of "Big Bogus," "Little Bogus" and the Beaver 
Lake country generally, discovered and made 
use of? That is a query which, in all proba- 
bility, will forever remain unanswered. La- 
Salle's men, as early as 1679, must have avail- 
ed themselves of the plenty abounding there, 
even though it was late December when he 
made his memorable trip down the Kankakee. 



100 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Father Hennepin recorded the fact that his 
Mohican hunters were abroad, that LaSalle 
himself got lost in the oak scrub and sand- 
dunes, and that somewhere, southwest of the 
portage, they ran across a buffalo bull hope- 
lessly mired in the river muck. The nearest 
approach to a fixed date when a white man 
hunted in the Beaver Lake region, is that 
mentioned by the famous pioneer trader, Gur- 
don S. Hubbard, in his memoirs — March 1827. 
Long before that day, however, the French 
voyageur and coureur de bois hunted and 
trapped and fished the Kankakee and its 
marsh environs, but these men left no writ- 
ten record of their comings and goings. They 
were frontiersmen — not writers. 

There was a section of the Kankakee 
where the river writhed and twisted and turn- 
ed back upon itself in a series of startling zig- 
zag movements as a result of the uncertain 
meanderings of the ancient ice-cap, which 
moved ever so slowly and ploughed a chan- 
nel for the stream — a nook of twisting river 
and shallow swamps, lying to the south-east 
of DeMotte, Indiana, and extending to the 
state-line, which was as sweet a paradise for 
the hunter and trapper as ever existed any- 
where under the sun. In this bit of river 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 101 

country, east from Shelby, Indiana, there was 
first, "Bumbaloo," the wilderness home of 
that sturdy Canadian, "Hank" Granger ; then 
Little Hickory, Red Oak, Indian Garden, 
(which must not be confused with Indian Gar- 
den located above Momence), Jerry's Island 1 
(named after old Jerry Kinney), Beech Ridge, 
French Island, and Grape Island. In this day a 
perfectly new river channel operates from a 
point or bend in the Kankakee above Grape Is- 
land in an air line to the state-line, and the an- 
cient river bed, thus cut off, is now grown up 
to saw-grass, cat-tails and rushes, with now 
and then a stagnant pool, covered with green 
scum. Here in this once delightful nook of 
the Kankakee, such men as Folsom, Brainerd, 
Ritter, Granger, Seymour, Summers, Dusen- 
berg, Sweeney, Bissell, Goodrich, Broady and 
Irvin, old-timers with a reputation both sides 
of the state-line, carried on for years. 

Returning to Gurdon S. Hubbard, the 
trader, an unusual experience incident to the 
trip of March 1827 to Beaver Lake, is of in- 
terest, and we reproduce it. 

"One cold March day in 1827, I went to 
the Beaver Creek Lake for a hunt. This was 
a part of the great Kankakee Marsh, and 
geese and ducks and swan were very abund- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 103 

ant. The fall previous I had hidden a canoe 
in the vicinity of the lake and about thirteen 
miles from my trading house, and this I found 
with little difficulty. I hunted until nearly 
dark, when, thinking it was too dark to re- 
turn home, I camped for the night on a small 
island in the lake. There were no trees, but 
I made a fire of driftwood, and having cook- 
ed some game for my supper, lay down and 
soon fell asleep. Sometime in the night I 
awoke in great pain, and found that my fire 
had nearly burned out. I managed to replen- 
ish it, but the pain continued, being most se- 
vere in my legs, and by morning it increased 
to such an extent that I could not reach the 
canoe. About ten o'clock an Indian came 
down to the lake and I called to him and told 
him of my condition, and with his assistance 
reached the canoe, and finally the main shore. 
I sent the Indian to Iroquois (Bunkum), with 
orders for my men to come and bring with 
them a horse and harness. On their arrival 
I had the horse hitched to the canoe and my- 
self placed therein, and started in this man- 
ner to ride home. I soon found that I could 
not stand the jarring of the canoe as it was 
drawn over the rough ground, and halted until 
some better means of travel could be devised. 



104 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

I sent back to Iroquois for two more men, 
which necessitated my camping for one night 
more. On their arrival they constructed, with 
poles and blankets, a litter upon which they 
bore me safely and quite comfortably home. 
I had a severe attack of inflammatory rheu- 
matism, which confined me to the house for 
three or four weeks, and from which I did not 
fully recover for eighteen months. I doctored 
myself with poultices of elm and decoctions of 
various herbs." 

III. 

During the old days of the border and 
later, on the advent of spring when the my- 
riad hosts of the air, ducks, geese, brant, 
crane, swan and blue heron poured in untold 
numbers into this natural haven of the wild, 
it was then that the youth and middle-aged 
of the little settlement of Momence, on the 
river, were stirred to feverish activity and 
prepared for a campaign of slaughter. Their 
numbers were increased by hunters from the 
countryside and from far and near, for the 
season of sport and plenty was on. For the 
hunters of the Illinois country and beyond, 
Momence was the gateway. But, before the 
Promised Land of this great game retreat 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 105 

could be reached, however, the awful mud of 
"Lynd's Lane" had to be negotiated. "Lynd's 
Lane" originates near the Lorain School south 
of the river and, for years, has been the chief 
artery of travel to the east and the Beaver 
Lake country. This road of late years has 
been robbed of most of its terrors by reason 
of having been drained and built up of stone. 
"Lynd's Lane" in the days of the frontier, 
however, was a meandering trail south of 
the river that wound its way uncertainly to 
the east among quagmires, islands of bul- 
rushes and "elbow brush," across boggy, 
springy stretches of quaking marsh up to the 
near vicinity of the Tiffany Brick Works of 
today, where Dr. Lynds formerly had his 
home. The swamp in its entirety is known as 
"Hess* Slough." This lane, then, in reality 
"Dr. Lynd's Lane," by a peculiar colloquial 
lapse on the part of Momence citizens, is call- 
ed by every mother's son of them "Lyon's 
Lane." 

At most times of the year but more partic- 
ularly in the spring and fall, it was a bottom- 
less morass of sticky, clinging mud. It was 
the bete noir of the traveler and the hunter 
by whom it was tacitly admitted that it pos- 
sessed all the qualities claimed by a certain 



106 



TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 




THE SITE OF HUBBARD'S 
TRADING POST 

There was a Time When the Life of 
the Wilderness Revolved Around This 
Spot. Here Gurdon S. Hubbard had his 
Trading Post on the Iroquois as early 
as 1828. The old "Trail" Marks are 
Still Visible Near by but Everything 
Else has Vanished. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 107 

darkey for his coon-trap, viz : "If hit doan git 
'em a-comin , , hit sure will git 'em when dey's 
a-gwine!" Ah, many a hunter caught in its 
treacherous depths has made known to a 
waiting world in language vigorous, profane, 
picturesque, that "comin' or gwine," it was all 
the same to "Lyon's Lane." Many a rig stuck 
in its tenacious depths had to be lightened of 
its load before a wheel could turn. Many a 
returning hunter found it necessary to sac- 
rifice the greater part of his kill to the insat- 
iable maw of "Lyon's Lane." The terrors of 
"Lyon's Lane," in time, were not only anatha- 
matized in good, old-fashioned orthodox style, 
but apostrophized, as the following quatrain 
of frontier origin will show : 

"There is a place called 'Lyon's Lane,' 

That's always filled with mud; 
And hunters plunged beneath that flood, 
Lose all their ducks and game!" 

Scattered throughout this wide country 
of ours, in almost every state in the Union, 
are old, gray-haired men who, at some time 
in their youth, braved the mud of "Lyon's 
Lane," the rain and sleet and snows of early 
March, to lay in a "blind" made of "cat-tails," 
wild rice and rushes piled high in the lee of 
a convenient musk-rat house in the "Black 



108 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Marsh," and took toll of the wild horde as it 
came tumbling in. Blessed is he who lived in 
those primitive days. For all such there is 
an inheritance of stirring memories that 
thrills the blood and quickens the pulse. 

How is one to go about it to tell the inter- 
esting story of this moving picture of wild life 
of the long ago ? As Judge Hunter says : "Man ! 
Man ! Man ! The spectacle was too stupendous 
for words! He would have to have known 
something of those days ; he should have lived 
in the swamps as I did, weeks and months at 
a time ; he would have to have the echo of the 
deafening clamor of all this wild life in his 
ears, and sense the beating of thousands of 
wings in the air, and envision the gray-white 
bodies and yellow legs of these mighty hosts 
all set to drop into the open water spaces 
among the rushes and wild rice! A man who 
seeks to understand it all should have, at some 
time in his life, experienced that mighty thrill 
of elation that comes to the hunter when, at 
the crack of his gun, not one but half a dozen, 
maybe a dozen fine birds came tumbling down 
into the water! A man would have to know 
all that means and more — and then he could 
not make novice understand." 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 109 

Often in the fall of the year, the marsh 
would be burned over, at least sections of it 
would be, but it never burned cleanly. Here 
and there would be left islands of rushes, saw- 
grass, cat-tails and other swamp growth, in 
the center of which was generally to be found 
a musk-rat house or two. The hunter would 
push his boat into a standing mass like this 
and, where there happened to be a musk-rat 
house, he would kick a trench through the 
top of it and run his boat therein. He would 
then tear out the top of an adjoining musk- 
rat habitation in which to accommodate his 
dogs and the game as fast as they brought it 
in. A good retriever in that day surely earned 
his board and keep. A hunter with a good dog 
never paid any attention to the game as it 
fell to his gun. It was the dog's business to 
bring it in, and he was faithful to the job. 
When the shooting was brisk he was in the 
ice-cold water for hours at a time, and when 
the wind blew cold so that the spray froze 
on the sides of the boat, icicles hung like pend- 
ants from the dog's shaggy coat, and tinkled 
like castanets. At the camp a cosy box of 
straw awaited him nearby the stove and, after 
a generous feed of coarse cornmeal mush, he 



110 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

turned in and immediately forgot the trials 
and hardships of the day. 

In the spring the fly-way was from the 
southwest to the northeast. At this time 
small, red-head teal occupied these waters lit- 
erally by the hundreds of thousands. Out on 
the broad expanse of the lake proper and the 
open reaches of that famous hunting ground 
known as the "Gaff Ranch," there dwelt the 
mallards, geese and swan literally by the acre. 
Judge Hunter recalls that often as he laid in 
his "blind he has watched a flight of these 
red-heads go over, scarcely six feet above his 
head, a veritable cloud of them acres in ex- 
tent, a living blanket four or five feet in thick- 
ness as it seemed. How they can fly in such 
numbers and not interfere with one another 
is one of the secrets of wild life known on- 
ly to the habitants of the wild. These birds 
were small and seldom shot at for the reason 
that the real hunter disdained to waste his 
powder and shot on them, but waited for the 
mallard, pin-tail, geese and swan — something 
worth while. Decoys were plentifully used in 
the old days, and long before the day of the 
"duck-callers" or "squawkers," there were 
many hunters who could successfully lure 
the mallards and pin-tails to circle over 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 111 

them. Walter Hobbie could imitate the 
"honk" of a goose with that high-pitched nasal 
twang of his so that a bird within earshot 
would stop, look and listen. Frank Longpre 
of Momence, however, in his palmy days, 
could just naturally make a goose get down 
among the rushes and look for him, his wild, 
strident "honk" sounding for all the world 
like "Whar are yuh ! Whar are yuh ! Whar are 
yuh!" 

Joseph Kite, a nearby resident of Lake 
Village, Indiana, a member of the well-re- 
membered Kite Brothers' hunting organiza- 
tion of the early days, became thoughtful and 
reminiscent when approached on the question 
Beaver Lake's glorious days of plenty. Cold, 
hard figures, even though one employs the 
term thousands, or hundreds of thousands, 
fail to adequately express the idea of unlim- 
ited numbers of wild fowl that occupied the 
waters of the lake and the adjacent nesting 
grounds of the marshes, in the opinion of Mr. 
Kite. Beaver Lake contained, roughly speak- 
ing, thirty-five to forty thousand acres, most- 
ly covered with water. Therefore, he would 
use the term "acres," as most expressive of 
numbers of the mallards, geese, brant, and 
swan that frequented the place. The swan 



112 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



especially were numerous. He has stood in 
the door of his shack on Johnson Island and 
shot them. He and his brothers brought in 
one day a top-box wagon load of these birds. 
They used to ship them to Chicago. Sometimes 
they would get one dollar apiece for swan 
that weighed from seventeen to twenty 
pounds. More often they got less, and not in- 
frequently it happened that the commission 
man forgot them entirely. The wagon load 
of swan mentioned they did not ship, but 
skinned the carcasses and tacked them up 
on the walls of their shack to dry. These 
skins had a commercial value over and above 
the meat, which was excellent. The feathers 
of pure white were valuable, and after they 
were extracted there was left the beautiful, 
soft, white down which, in the early days, 
constituted the genuine "swan's-down," so 
much esteemed for the trimming of ladies' 
garments. Their efforts in this instance, how- 
ever, met with disaster. The moths got into 
them and ruined the entire lot. 

There was an element of the spectacu- 
lar and the beautiful in this moving picture 
of the wild life of the lake, especially at such 
times when the swan rose in numbers from 
the surface of the water, a roaring, turbulent, 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 113 

billowy mass, their white breasts and wings 
glowing with an irridescence like mother of 
pearl where the sunlight was reflected from 
them. At other times they would come head- 
on into the wind, twisting, rolling like a milk- 
white cloud. 

Victor Brassard, of Momence, as a youth 
hunted with his father in the days of Beaver 
Lake's plenty. His observations are inter- 
esting. Often, he says, ducks and geese were 
slaughtered by the thousands merely for their 
feathers, for, in that day of the frontier, ev- 
ery well ordered household had feather beds, 
since replaced by the more modern mattress. 
There was always a market for the feathers 
and fairly good prices the rule. Heavy birds 
like geese and swan, on rising make a run 
head on into the wind. The airplane of to- 
day employs much the same tactics to insure a 
successful get-away. Sometimes numbers of 
these birds would be stampeded into attempt- 
ing flight before they had a chance to ac- 
quire momentum by running into the wind, 
and the result was always a squawking, dis- 
organized, helter-skelter mass, helpless before 
the guns of the hunters. 

The flight of these vast hordes in their 
fall migration to the south was an interesting 



114 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

and impressive spectacle. One could count 
upon its taking place anywhere from the 20th 
to the 31st of October and rarely miss it. The 
"swamp-rat," wise to every sound and move- 
ment of the wild seemed to be able to fore- 
cast their departure with a degree of success 
that was little short of uncanny. For sever- 
al days prior to this great event, ducks and 
geese would gather in the open spaces of 
water, a huge convention considering a 
weighty enterprise. Ever and anon there 
would be a terrific upheaval in the mass and 
thousands of them would take wing and mount 
high and swing in a mighty circle and fall into 
their place again, a unit of a vast phalanx get- 
ting ready to be on the move. Day after day 
the observer in the swamps would have beheld 
these movements and marveled at them un- 
less he was experienced enough with the ways 
of wild life to sense the import of it all. 

How, and in what manner was the great 
hour of departure settled upon? How, indeed! 
It would be interesting to know. Sometimes 
the leader of this vast wilderness concourse 
would sound the warning note in the dead of 
night, sometimes in broad daylight, and in- 
stantly the army responded, not en masse, but 
by battalions that took the air, one after an- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 115 

other, in quick succession. As they drifted 
off to the south they looked like ragged clouds 
that gradually assumed the V-shaped forma- 
tion as they vanished on the horizon. To the 
hunter, left behind in the swamps, this V- 
shaped formation spelled "Good-Night!" 
"Adieu !" "Farewell — until next spring." And 
for years, in the spring, there reappeared in 
mighty V-shaped formation, over the fly- 
ways to the south and west these hosts of the 
air seeking old Beaver Lake, there to meet 
up with other thousands that had tested out 
their wings on a flight from breeding grounds 
in the Arctic circle! And what a clanking of 
voices as they greeted one another. It was 
enough to drive one raving distracted! The 
days of the twentieth century hold nothing 
comparable to the plenteous days of old Beav- 
er Lake in her prime ! 

In a land once so abundantly stocked 
with all manner of wild game and visited an- 
nually by hunters from far and near, it is 
not surprising that the memory of the "old 
timer" still holds to traditions and tales of 
unusual occurrences in the way of freak shots. 
There is the tale of the frontiersman who 
dropped two deer running in opposite direc- 
tions, with a solitary bullet. They pass- 



116 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ed, or rather, met, at the opportune sec- 
ond and the bullet ploughed through them. 
There is the story of the man who shot a sol- 
itary goose and brought it down, only to have 
it fall into the open well of a solitary dweller 
of the marsh, thereby necessitating careful 
search on the part of the hunter. There are 
stories of unusual bags of game at a single 
shot on the part of the experienced hunter and 
the novice as well, for the game was so plen- 
tiful that almost anything could happen. Judge 
W. A. Hunter says that in all his many years' 
experience hunting on the river and in the 
marsh, the finest single shot he ever witnessed 
was made by that old-time artist, Pierre Bras- 
sard, of Momence. Pierre Brassard was a 
French-Canadian and one of the early set- 
tlers in the swamp environs of Momence. He 
knew every inch of the river and the Beaver 
Lake country, and, during his long experience, 
many a party of hunters from New York, Bos- 
ton, Philadelphia and Chicago, representing 
the aristocracy of the fraternity of hunters, 
were piloted by him into this lake paradise. 
Pierre and "Billy" were out on the river 
above Momence one day, located in "blinds/' 
several hundred yards apart, when four lone 
geese appeared on the horizon. They came 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 117 

in "quartering," that is, on an angle with each 
bird fully exposed but, apparently, Pierre did 
not see them. Mr. Hunter says that, from his 
position, he could discern the gray top of 
Pierre's "musk-rat" cap inert and motionless 
above the weeds of the blind. Then, all in a 
second, the gray spot moved ever so slightly, 
the barrel of his gun slid up over the edge of 
the blind as if by magic, there was a report 
and one after another the four geese took a 
header towards the ground. He had killed all 
four at one shot. The impressive feature of 
this shot, said Mr. Hunter, was that it was 
calculated. He meant to drop all four birds at 
one shot and he did, Old Pierre was just that 
good with the gun. 

Victor Brassard's face lighted with a 
knowing smile when he was reminded of the 
incident concerning the prowess of his father 
as a fine shot. "That," said he, "is peculiarly 
typical of father's style of shooting. I remem- 
ber one day when father and a friend of his, 
and myself, went out on the river after ducks. 
We were located in "blinds," not far apart and 
father said : 'Now, I will take the first shot as 
they come over, and then you boys go after 
them/ But there was nothing to go after. 
The first ducks to appear were three in num- 



118 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ber, and father made a "pot shot" of them. 
Next} came two, and they fell likewise. All of 
which goes to show that there is an instant 
when game in flight comes into alignment 
where the charge will prove most effective, 
and he knew just that second when to pull." 

Over on the Kankakee, not so far away, 
in between "Bumbaloo" and French Island, 
there the old-timers still talk of Andy Grang- 
er's bag of thirty-three geese in the short 
space of forty minutes. 

IV. 

To fully appreciate this life of the old 
days in the open, one should have at some 
time in his career experienced not only the 
thrills of the hunter, but something of the 
weariness of a strenuous day's shooting from 
a boat or a "blind" in the marsh when the 
wind sang fine among the rushes and saw- 
grass and bore down the rain in fitful gusts — 
rain mixed with sleet — that stung the face 
and congealed the marrow in the bones. Hunt- 
ing, even in the old days, was not "all beer 
and skittles." Even the faithful dog who 
ranged far and wide after every shot and 
brought in the birds that bulked high in the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 119 

boat, was glad when he was "whistled in" and 
the boat's prow turned in the direction of 
home — home, in this case, being the snug lit- 
tle tent set under the protecting arms of a 
jack-oak on "Hog Island," or "Tater Island," 
or Pigeon Island," or some other island too 
poor to have a name. This tent in the marsh, 
after a long, hard day, gave a new meaning 
to the well known lines of the poet: 

"Be it ever so humble. 
There's no place like home." 

Generally, a fellow's hunting partner 
happened in about the same time. The day's 
kill was disposed of first, for there were men 
who did nothing else but haul the game thus 
killed to the railroad at Momence for ship- 
ment to Chicago. During the years of the 
early seventies, Frank Longpre did much of 
this hauling of game, and between loads would 
go out and knock down a goose or two him- 
self. Citizen Silas Sink, a well known resi- 
dent of the lake region, earned the sobriquet 
of "Captain" by operating a small steamboat 
on the Kankakee river between Black Oak, 
in Indiana, and Momence, Illinois. It was a 
great convenience to the army of hunters in 
the swamp, for their game was regularly tak- 
en out and needed supplies brought in. Dur- 



120 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ing the seventies, one dozen fine mallards 
brought $1.00 to $1.75 in the Chicago market. 

After the game had been attended to, 
then the sheet-iron stove was lighted and sup- 
per gotten under way. These suppers in the 
swamp camp were more or less elaborate af- 
fairs according to the culinary skill of those 
most concerned. A man out hunting all day 
and so busy that he could only snatch a "cold 
bite" now and then, landed in at night liter- 
ally famished. A favorite expression used to 
be "that he could eat the inside out of a 
skunk." There was a generous pot of coffee, 
a spiderf ul of bacon and, if one's culinary ac- 
complishments warranted so much, a batch 
of hot saleratus biscuits, together with such 
other accompaniments as the swamp larder 
contained. 

After all, after a big day afield, battered 
and touseled by the winds and pelted by a 
cold rain, what is there that can approach the 
joy and creature comfort to be found in a 
snug, warm tent, a good supper of your own 
making, a pipeful of tobacco and a good pal 
to listen sympathetically as you relate the im- 
portant incidents of the day? For most men 
of the old days that was just as near He®Ten 
as a mortal could get this side of the pearly 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 121 

gates. And if one went so far as to take a 
swallow from a little brown bottle in those 
pre- Volstead days, it was just to propitiate 
the inner man. And if, perchance, before 
turning in for the night, he took still another 
"nip," that was merely a libation to the titu- 
lar Gods of the wild to be generous with their 
gifts on the morrow. Decidedly there was a 
lure in the swamp life of the old days that 
touched a responsive chord in the generality 
of mankind. Lawyers, doctors, merchants, 
listened to the call of this great, out door play 
ground of Beaver Lake and responded in num- 
bers. There were times when justice lan- 
guished in Kankakee for weeks at a time and 
patiently awaited the return of her chief rep- 
resentatives of the bar, T. P. Bonfield, C. A. 
Lake, Harrison Loring, Stephen R. Moore, 
William Potter, J. W. Paddock, and Judge 
Bartlett. Then there was "Uncle Pleas" Dur- 
ham and Hugh Lancaster who chaperoned re- 
gularly a party of hunters who had grown 
old in the service but who, nevertheless, got 
a "kick" out of camp life and experienced a 
renewal of youth by the mere recital of old- 
time memories and a whiff of the game-laden 
southwest winds. The ammunition of this 
party was contained chiefly in suspicious 



122 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

brown jugs. None of them could sight a gun 
successfully, such were the infirmities of age, 
but they could appraise the spots of a deck of 
cards by candle light, and he who can do this 
is not hopelessly old. The limit was twenty- 
five cents. The shade who remembers when 
everybody else forgets, intimates that they 
never sought "the hay" until the "Wee, sma' 
hours." Now and then after they had turned 
in, the silence would be broken by a dry, rack- 
ing, raucous cough, such a cough as would 
make Sir Harry Lauder feel as though his ed- 
ucation in the matter of simulating a cough 
had been neglected. This was later followed 
by the explosive "wham" of the cork as it 
was pulled from the neck of the ammunition 
jug, the liquid ripple of spirits, the deep drawn 
sigh of satisfaction, and then — silence. Ah, 
memories, memories ! A volume could be writ- 
ten of memories and nothing more of the 
great lake country in the days of its prime. 

Men in those early days, particularly 
those who buffeted the swamps, were obser- 
vant of everything about them. They were 
weather-wise to a degree that seemed uncan- 
ny all because they read the signs and took 
due notice thereof when nature gave inti- 
mation of a change of program. The old- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 123 

time hunter who has campaigned in the 
swamps wouldn't have particularly heeded the 
prophesies of the high-priced government of- 
ficial in Chicago today. Not he. He was 
used to casting his eye skyward in a broad, 
comprehensive sweep; he knew whether the 
sun at its rising or going down glowed red like 
a carbuncle, or was obscured by fogs and vap- 
ors ; swiftly he noted the direction of the wind, 
whether the smoke rose straight up or hug- 
ged the ground; these indications are as in- 
fallible as a barometer. Then, too, the cirro- 
cumuli of the meteorologist and the fleecy 
clouds of "the mackerel sky" of the swamp 
man were equally portentous. 

In the marsh there were times when a 
significant hush fell upon the land, follow- 
ed by a sudden puff of wind out of the south- 
west that bent the heads of the wild-rice 
sharply over and ruffled the water of the open 
spaces and then died away as suddenly as it 
came. If it were in the month of March, even 
though the sun were shining, the hunter wise 
to these out of door conditions knew there 
was something on the way, and acted accord- 
ingly. In an incredibly short time there would 
be wisps of thin, fleecy clouds mounting high- 
er and higher, a freshening of the wind which 



124 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

in an hour's time, became a gale bearing an 
avalanche of snow or rain or sleet. Our 
friends of the wild always found a warning in 
the croak of the crow and the scream of the 
blue-jay. Even the ponderous, reverberating 
notes of the swamp bull-frog were pregnant 
with meaning for the initiated. They seemed 
to say, "Better go 'round! Better go 'round! 
Better go 'round." 

The "Black Marsh," to the north-east of 
the lake proper was a favorite breeding 
ground. Here, rising above the shallow waters 
of the marsh by the hundreds, so thick that 
they suggested hay-cocks in a meadow, were 
the unique habitations of the musk-rats. Other 
contiguous swamps were similarly inhabited. 
Here, also, the geese in the spring, with an 
eye to utility and convenience, made use of 
the materials already provided by the indus- 
trious rats, and made their nests on the roof 
of his dwelling without so much as intimat- 
ing "By your leave." A strange and interest- 
ing combination it was — rats within and 
geese without — sometimes as many as five or 
six of them in close proximity to one another, 
on the same curious mound of dried weeds and 
rushes. These unbidden guests of the wild 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 125 

when disturbed by the hunter or the near ap- 
proach of his dog, would curve their long 
necks downward and with heads close to the 
water, slide easily and gracefully in, after 
which they voiced a noisy protest at being 
disturbed. 

The mallards, more particular as to sit- 
uation and more skillful in the matter of 
building their nests, built among the rushes 
and cat-tails and the rice, of which they made 
use in anchoring their nests in a peculiar way. 
A mallard's nest was made large at the bot- 
tom, tapering to a considerable height where 
the nest was located. The foundation mater- 
ials were woven loosely about several upstand- 
ing rushes or cat-tails, so that the nest could 
rise or lower with the flood waters of the 
slough. Ordinarily one would think that it 
could not possibly matter whether a nest rose 
or fell with the tide or not. But the logic of 
the wild, that unerring instinct which guides 
certain of the water-fowl, disproves all this. 
Supposing the nest were firmly anchored and 
the waters of the slough receded so that the 
nest was suspended six inches above the sur- 
face of the water. The young ducklings might 
fall out into the water all right, but how 
would they ever get back home and under 



126 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

mother's protecting wing? With the nest 
thus anchored, but able to rise and lower with 
the waters, it rode the waves safely when the 
surface was lashed by heavy winds. Other- 
wise the nest would have been inundated. 
The sloping sides served an important end in 
this scheme of the wilderness household. By 
this means the young ducks were enabled to 
reach the water easily, and just as easily come 
from the water back into the nest. 

During July and August the wild life of 
the marsh was most interesting to observe. 
Multitudes of musk-rats, as if conscious that 
their furl coats were of little value to the hun- 
ter at that time of the year, disported in num- 
bers about the sedgy margins of the swamp. 
Myriads of young mallards, half grown, for- 
aged here and there and even contested with 
the rats for certain choice tid-bits of marsh 
f loatsam picked up in their wanderings. The 
stringy, bulbous root of the swamp artichoke 
was a morsel much sought by rats and ducks 
alike, and many a tug-of-war occurred be- 
tween these opposing forces — a rat at one 
end and a duck at the other. The musk-rats 
were so numerous that they would run five 
hundred to the acre in the opinion of the old- 
time hunter. As to the mallards — there was 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 127 

absolutely no way in which a man could arrive 
at a reasonable estimate of their numbers. 
The homing phase of wild life was interesting 
to observe, and the old-timer recalls how these 
young, half-grown mallards, at nightfall, 
sought out the old nest and as many as could 
perched on its precipitous sides, while the bal- 
ance, if the family were large — say about a 
dozen — sat in the water with their feet drawn 
up into the soft feathers of the breast, and 
with heads tucked under their wings dreamed 
of polly-wogs and bugs. 

The Beaver Lake region not only attract- 
ed huge flights of ducks, geese and swan, but 
here, also, was the home primeval of the pic- 
turesque sand-hill crane. They frequented 
this section literally by the thousands. Every 
hunter of pioneer days has some story to re- 
late concerning a peculiar ceremonial observ- 
ed by these birds in the spring and sometimes 
in the early fall, which is often alluded to 
as the "dance of the cranes." At such times 
numbers of these birds gathered on a high 
spot of the prairie adjacent to the water. 
They formed in a circle, each one equi-distant 
from his neighbor, and thus disposed they 
went through a series of movements strange- 
ly akin to the figures of a quadrille. Always 



128 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

there was a dignity of movement and a ser- 
iousness of mien and deportment altogether 
amusing, interesting and quite out of the or- 
dinary. One of the movements most general- 
ly recalled by those who have witnessed them, 
is that which resembled "leap-frog." The bird 
ahead would squat close to the ground while 
the one behind would vault lightly over. Im- 
mediately on alighting, this bird would crouch 
down to the ground while the other jumped 
over. 

Beaver Lake was a body of water seven 
miles long and about five miles wide and from 
six to nine feet deep, situated mainly in Mc- 
Clellan township, Newton county, Indiana. 
Contiguous swamps added vastly to this area 
which was known generally as "The Beaver 
Lake Country." In 1853 the state of Indiana 
undertook to reclaim a portion of this swamp 
tract by running a ditch from the northwest 
corner of the lake to the Kankakee river, sev- 
eral miles away to the north. This effort was 
pretty much of a failure as it only caused the 
shore-line of the lake to recede by about one 
hundred yards. Twenty-five to thirty years 
later Lemuel Milk, of Kankakee, the well 
known land magnate, became interested in the 
project of draining this vast tract, and went 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 129 

after it with characteristic energy. The old 
ditch was widened and deepened and its car- 
rying capacity increased. The limestone 
"hog-back" above Momence, Illinois, was cut 
through and the Kankakee, with its flood thus 
released, made short work of draining pic- 
turesque Beaver Lake. 

While the success of this great reclama- 
tion project was being acclaimed by the public 
in general, tragedy was stalking abroad in all 
the vast realm where, from time immemorial, 
had dwelt the feathered legions of the wild. 
In the nesting places of the shallow swamps 
the geese had but recently brought off their 
broods, all unmindful of impending disaster. 
There were tens of thousands of these big, 
soft, fuzzy goslings suddenly bereft of their 
native element — water. Goslings at best are 
poor "land-lubbers" but fine sailors and aero- 
nauts once they are supplied with water and 
wing-feathers, but in this case they had neith- 
er. The sight was pitiable, says A. L. Barker, 
who, as a boy witnessed it all. They walked 
and rolled and dragged themselves painfully 
to the few depressions in the marsh bottom 
where water still remained and crowded these 
places to suffocation. For days the sandy 
spaces roundabout the sloughs were alive with 



130 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

the roly-poly forms of these goslings, some 
dead, others dying, while the remainder toiled 
persistently though painfully landward, under 
a burning sun, in search of water. The help- 
lessness and misery of these hapless waifs 
of the wild would have moved a soul of ada- 
mant to pity. The mother geese were every- 
where encouraging their flocks as best they 
might, but the task was a hopeless one and 
one after another they fell by the wayside. 
Only the stronger ones and such as were 
helped endured and reached the life-saving 
water in the door-yard of the swamp settler. 
It was a disaster so far-reaching in its effects 
upon the wild life of the region that man was 
helpless to succor them except in a very lim- 
ited way. Mr. Barker recalls that he picked 
up numbers of these goslings and bore them 
to a place of safety in his father's barnyard, 
and that the mother geese, so far from being 
perturbed by the presence of man, apparent- 
ly sensed that it was an act of mercy. As the 
goslings wallowed in the puddles about the 
watering trough the old geese would stretch 
their necks and wag their heads up and down 
unruffled by the approach of a stranger, 
meanwhile giving voice to a delightfully soft 
and friendly little "croak" which, in the Ian- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 131 

guage of wild meant, beyond a doubt— "Thank 
you, mister, thank you for your kindness." 

The geese were not the only ones to suffer. 
With the passing of the waters of the lake the 
hosts of buffalo, cat-fish and pickerel con- 
tained therein were left marooned in shallow 
pools or stranded helplessly in the black muck 
of the lake's bottom. There were buffalo and 
pickerel of enormous size, patriarchs of these 
primeval waters, whose carcasses littered the 
bottom of the lake so thickly that one could 
step from one to another in any direction, like 
upon so many stepping stones. For weeks, 
after the release of the waters, this spot was 
like a charnel house, from which emanated 
odors of fish and game, rotting under the rays 
of a hot sun, that smelled to Heaven and hung 
oven 4 this citadel of the wilderness like a pes- 
tilential blanket. Man had won in the conflict 
with nature ! The citadel had fallen ! 



Austin Dexter is a marsh inhabitant who 
has spent eighty-six years there. He was 
born at Rensselaer, Indiana, in 1839, and 
shortly after his people moved into the lake 
country and he has been there ever since. He 



132 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 




AN ANCIENT "SWAMP-RAT" 
Austin Dexter, at the Right in the Pic- 
ture, is, Perhaps, Beaver Lake's Oldest 
Citizen in Point of Continuous Residence. 
He Came to the Lake as a Baby and is 
Now Eighty-Six Years Old. He has Visions 
of the Lake Country Again Returning to a 
State of Nature in Time. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 133 

is what is known in the expressive phraseol- 
ogy of the lake country as "a Swamp-Rat." 
Life, in the main, has been uneventful save 
that it is rich in the garnered experiences of 
the little realm in which he has so long lived 
and moved and been a part. In his little hut 
back among the oaks of a sand-ridge, not far 
from the famous "Shafer Ridge," we found 
him and talked with him. Here he lives dur- 
ing the summer, pretty much by himself, and, 
in the winter he goes down to Kentland a pen- 
sioner on the bounty of Newton county. His 
recollection of the marsh goes back into the 
early forties. The Pottawattomi were there 
in that day and, with their primitive weapons, 
were the principal hunters for a time. His 
older brother spent much time with them and 
became quite expert in speaking and under- 
standing the Pottawattomi tongue. In that 
day, besides the aquatic life that filled the 
marsh, there were countless deer and wolves 
that ranged the adjacent prairie and oak- 
scrub of the sand-ridges. He recalls that dur- 
ing the fifties and the sixties hunters made a 
business of hunting deer for the market. He 
has beheld wagon loads of deer carcasses pil- 
ed high and tied with ropes, ready for trans- 
port to market at Rensselaer or Morocco, In- 



134 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

diana, or across the line into Illinois to Mo- 
mence. 

There is a tradition associated with the 
year he was born, 1839, of which he likes to 
tell. The winter was very severe and many 
deer took refuge on Big Bogus Island. During 
the protracted season of cold the waters of 
the lake were frozen over and then the citi- 
zens of the region inaugurated a big drive. 
Nearly everybody in the neighborhood par- 
ticipated in the affair, men, boys and a wo- 
man or two, more hardy and venturesome 
than the rest, joined in the sport. This wild- 
erness posse was armed with rifles, pitch- 
forks, corn-knives — anything that might serve 
as a weapon. The grass of the island was 
fired and the deer, driven before the wall of 
fire, emerged in numbers upon the glare ice 
of the lake. Then the slaughter ensued for 
the deer, unable to stand on the slippery sur- 
face of the lake, sprawled in every direction 
in their mad efforts to escape and became 
easy victims. It is said that the bag of game 
in that drive amounted to seventy head of 
deer, a fox or two and six or seven wolves. 
It was a big event in the lake's history. 

Naturally there are memories etched on 
the very soul of this ancient swamp recluse 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 135 



of days when the wild life of the upper air 
concentrated here. Again, a man would have 
profited if he had known something of the 
prodigal abundance of these wilderness days, 
for Austin Dexter, though friendly and will- 
ing, was disposed to listen rather than talk, 
and this reticence was due in a large measure 
to the fact that tales of the Lake's early days 
now seem extravagant, overdrawn, improb- 
able. By degrees, however, he talked — talk- 
ed in the halting monosyllable of the marsh- 
man— of nights in the early spring when the 
feathered hosts of the air came tumbling in. 
Many and many is the night he says, that he 
has lain awake in his shack, unable to sleep 
from the incessant "cac, cac, cac," of the red- 
heads and mallards mingled with the wild, 
strident "honk" of geese, belated travelers of 
the night who sought a resting spot in this 
wilderness hostelry. 

As these hosts settled down they disturb- 
ed still other hosts so that the night was a 
perfect bedlam of distracting cries, so much 
so that sleep was entirely out of the question. 
There were times when the swamp's feather- 
ed denizens, from some unknown source and 
in some unaccountable way, were warned of 
some untoward thing and rose en masse. It 



136 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



was a sight awe-inspiring, spectacular, sub- 
lime, and the noise of untold thousands of 
wings beating the air in unison as they arose 
from the water reverberated in the timber- 
fringed confines of the lake like heavy thun- 
der. Such old-time hunters of the swamps as 
Victor Brassard, Wm. A. Hunter and Tom 
Magruder, say that these sudden, unexplain- 
able upheavals of game taking wing at the 
same instant, registered on the sensibilities 
like the reverberations of a mild explosion. A 
fellow's nerves would farly tingle for a time 
as from the effects of a mighty electric shock. 
As he spoke of these happenings of the 
past his eye ranged slowly the vast expanse 
of country to the south where, traced in the 
swamp bottoms, were staring highways of 
white, farms fenced in and fields of corn 
white from the early autumn frosts, where 
formerly the boats of the hunters plied. To 
the southeast of "Big Bogus" laid the deep 
sink of old Beaver Lake. His eye rested here 
while he pointed out the huge dredge-ditch, 
its precipitous sides covered for the most part 
with scrub-oak, sumach and briers, through 
which shone dully, patches of dead, gray 
quicksand. It was then the tragedy of the 
swamp stood revealed. Through this ditch the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 137 

heart's blood of old Beaver Lake had drained 
to the last drop. "They murdered this land 
while they were at it," said Austin Dexter sad- 
ly, "and made a good job of it !" Its primitive 
voices are stilled, unless we except the lugu- 
brious voice of the crow and the chattering 
of the black-bird hosts. Man has deliberately 
sacrificed the plenty that here fell regularly 
from the hand of the Almighty and, in return, 
drew a burden of taxes. 



138 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



FAMOUS BOGUS ISLAND 

Beaver Lake and Bogus Island are but 
memories in this day. It is difficult for the 
casual visitor to realize that this was a swamp 
region, thousands of acres in extent, whose 
deep retreats were frequented by counterfeit- 
ers, horse thieves, murderers and criminals 
of lesser degree. So changed is the land that 
only the campaigner of its old days may know 
with something of certainty "just where he 
is at," in this lifeless, wide open land of today. 

The term lifeless is meant only in a re- 
lative sense, as indicating the entire absence 
of the hosts of wild fowl that once made this 
wilderness retreat vocal with their cries as 
they passed in and out. The chatter of the 
blackbird hosts is but the feeble echo of wild- 
erness life of the long ago. The south-west 
winds are empty today save where they pick 
up the dry sands of the old lake bed and weave 
them in spirals and sift them in soft, gray 
diaphanous clouds until, in the distance, they 
seem like spirit-flights of the ancient hosts 
of the wild haunting this spot of many mem- 
ories. 

Within forty years section lines have 
been run, fences built and a perfect checker- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 139 

board of stone roads built in the very heart 
of this swamp region. Its famous secret 
places are secret no longer, but have been 
opened to the public in the most ruthless and 
unfeeling manner and then forgotten, appar- 
ently, save by the "swamp-rat," to whom the 
whole thing is a nightmare — nay, more — a 
tragedy. "Little Bogus" and "Big Bogus" 
Islands, famous as the rendezvous of the ear- 
ly-day banditti, loom upon the landscape amid 
quiet pastoral scenes that afford little or no 
background for the fierce tales of the border 
credited to them. The island's most formid- 
able protecting barrier today is the unroman- 
tic but practical "barbed-wire" fence. 

This island, which is several acres in ex- 
tent and wooded, was occupied as early as 
1836 by counterfeiters, who made quantities 
of spurious coin which they circulated on the 
outside by means of confederates and help- 
ers. The Illinois country was alive with horse 
thieves and counterfeiters. They were even 
more numerous than the "hold-up" men of 
today. There is a tradition that three coun- 
terfeiters were arrested on Little Bogus in 
1837. They were taken before Justice Wes- 
ley Spitler, tried and bound over to the cir- 




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K o> o ft 






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AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 141 



cuit court. They forfeited their bonds and 
the case never came to trial. 

A horse stolen from the neighborhood of 
Milford, Illinois in 1857 was followed by~~a 
posse of twelve or fifteen men to the neighbor- 
hood of Bogus Island. The thief, hard press- 
ed, left the horse in the timber and made an 
unsuccessful attempt to escape. He was dis- 
covered crossing the big ditch a little way 
north of the bridge that crosses the ditch 
near the Jennie M. Conrad home, and, as he 
emerged on the other side, the bullets of the 
pursuing party dropped him in his tracks. 
Apparently the formality of an inquest was 
dispensed with. He was a known horse thief, 
and that was enough. They did drag the body 
to the top of the sightly sand-hill and buried 
it there. This eminence is known today as 
"Horse Thief Hill." About this time, too, 
"Old Shafer," a swamp character with a most 
sinister record, variously known as "Mike" 
or "William," was arrested. He was after- 
wards tried for harboring thieves and stolen 
property, and was sentenced to three years 
in the penitentiary. 

Early day citizens of Momence were 
obliged to wage constant and unrelenting 



142 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

warfare on these undesirables, and to that 
end the services of Col. Phil Worcester, 
"Uncle Sid" Vail and Walter B. Hess were en- 
listed on behalf of the community during a 
period of years and with something of suc- 
cess. In 1839, at a point on "Big Bogus" Is- 
land, on its southeastern side where the sandy 
promontory rises from the bed of the old lake, 
a point still distinguished by a huge oak tree, 
there Col. Worcester and his party surprised 
a band of five counterfeiters and made them 
captives. Tradition, which is vague and 
shadowy, says that the Worcester party con- 
sisted of himself, Sid Vail and "Uncle Billy" 
Nichols, with James Graham for a guide. 
They came across in a boat from Hunter's 
Point, to the south-west of the island, in the 
darkness of the night, guided only by a beacon 
light which shone from high up in the oak 
tree. The very audacity of the scheme made 
it successful. The counterfeiters were sure 
they were welcoming some of their own par- 
ty instead of officers of the law. 

Walter B. Hess, almost from the first 
day he became a resident of the border settle- 
ment of Momence, identified himself prom- 
inently with this movement to preserve law 
and order. He had a most formidable antag- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 143 

onist in the wiley Shafer whom he at last 
landed back of the bars for a three-year term. 
But Shafer had a long memory, he was cun- 
ning and revengeful, and in the end Mr. Hess 
lost many and many a good horse and, appar- 
ently, was helpless to avert it. Then, there 
were the brothers, Shep and Wright Latin 
who had the run of the town and were con- 
cerned in many a shady transaction. Mr. Hess 
never charged Shep Latin with actual stealing, 
but his clever brain hatched many a scheme 
which worked out to the great detriment of 
people of the community with good, likely 
horses. Shep Latin was really a likable fellow ; 
not vindictive like "Old Shafer." Mr. Hess 
says that Wright Latin one day went by his 
house with five horses, which afterwards 
proved to have been stolen. A day or so lat- 
er several men came by hunting for them and 
Mr. Hess gave the fellows such directions as 
he was able. A day or so later the men re- 
turned bringing four horses with them. They 
said they could not find the fifth horse but 
found a man in charge of the four. They add- 
ed significantly that his horse stealing days 
were over. The description they gave of the 
man tallied exactly with that of Wright Latin, 
and he was never heard from later. Many 



144 



TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 









■.■■," ; :.-' 



"BIG BOGUS ISLAND" 

Since the Draining of the Waters of 
Beaver Lake, "Big Bogus" Looms on its 
Southeastern Side like a Huge Promontory 
of Sand. The Figure to the Right in the 
Picture is Standing on the Spot Where a 
Gang of Early-Day Counterfeiters Had 
Their "Dugout." At This Point Five of a 
Gang Were Captured by Col. Worcester and 
a Band of Momence Men. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 145 

years later, while some men were digging a 
ditch near Blue Grass, in Indiana, they were 
very much frightened on exhuming a skele- 
ton. It was, in all probability, the remains of 
Wright Latin. 

The story is told how one day, while Shep 
Latin was intoxicated, he said to Mr. Hess: 

"Hess you're a fool to work as you do. 
I can put you in the way of making an easier 
living — just look at this." Whereupon he pull- 
ed out of several pockets handfuls of bills, 
with the remark: "My clothes are just lined 
with money." 

Mr. Hess refused his confidences on this 
and other occasions. Summing up his life 
work in the matter of searching out crimin- 
als, however, he was quite positive that, if 
he were a young man again going into a bor- 
der country he would not take the active part 
he did in trying to break up lawlessness. Once 
he pursued a horse thief for three weeks and 
in the chase ruined a better horse than the 
one that had been stolen. 

"Little Bogus," which was the favorite 
haunt of counterfeiters and thieves, was 
reached from the west and northwest by 
lonely trails, obscure and winding. It was 
surrounded on all sides by deep water which 



146 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

made surprise attack by officers of the law 
out of the question. By many of the marsh 
residents it was suspected that there was an 
easier way into it than by swimming one's 
horse through the deep waters surrounding 
it, and, at the time the waters of Beaver Lake 
were drained, there was brought to light for 
the first time a peculiar configuration of the 
lake bottom. From the island's highest point 
today the observer beholds, stretching away 
to the north-west, the ziz-zag lines of a nar- 
ow "hog-back" of sand which, lying close to 
the surface of the lake yet obscured by the 
water, afforded easy means of ingress and 
egress to men on horseback familiar with the 
peculiar lay of the land. From the point where 
the "hog-back" stopped abruptly, there was 
an interval of deep water between it and the 
adjacent sand-ridge to the west of some three 
or four hundred feet. Evidences of an early 
day engineering feat were unearthed at this 
point years ago at the time when one of the 
lateral ditches was dredged through. The 
dredge discovered with its steel nose a road- 
way constructed of logs six to eight inches in 
diameter, placed side by side corduroy fash- 
ion. This submerged corduroy roadway was 
laid in a shallow spot in the lagoon, and reach- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 147 

ed from the sand-ridge on the west as far as 
the "hog-back/' several hundred feet away 
to the south-east. Long after the waters of 
the lake had been drained away, this connect- 
ing bit of road, deeply embedded in the swamp 
muck, was clearly visible. One may behold it 
all today clearly revealed in the sunshine, the 
winding highway of the early-day banditti 
and the dip to the sand-ridge where the cor- 
duroy road was laid. It is an innocent look- 
ing bit of sandy surface today even though it 
once formed an important link for those who 
sought the island stronghold. 

"Bogus Island" in its primitive days, was 
as snug and secure a place as was ever hit up- 
on by the fugitive from justice, or he whose 
questionable practices thrive best in secret. 
Covered by a thick growth of oak and brush, 
its shores fringed about by a dense growth 
of cat-tails and wild rice, surrounded by deep 
water, uncharted save for the secret sub- 
merged trail to the north-west, what more se- 
cure haven could have been desired? Mid- 
way of the island, at the head of a small ra- 
vine which dips sharply to the east, is today 
a hol£ in the ground which popular tradition 
fixes as the spot where the counterfeiters had 
their cabin of logs and carried on their oper- 




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AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 149 

ations. The sandy area about this spot has 
yielded, in the course of the years, many me- 
mentoes in the way of spurious coins and 
counterfeiter's paraphernalia. Here, and at 
"Big Bogus," three miles to the south-east, 
as the crow flies, was the rallying point for 
these underworld characters of border days 
who, for years continued to be a thorn in the 
side of the border settlement at Momence. 
They were clever men, desperate men, who, in 
the pinch, held human life cheaply, so that in 
the category of crimes directly chargeable to 
them, there sometimes occurred the charge of 
murder. There are tales still told which lack 
much of detail and color, and legends vague 
and various touching upon the lives and do- 
ings of the banditti of the swamps, bandied 
about among the older folk of the region. But, 
for the most part time has wiped the memory 
clean of all definite recollection of these stir- 
ring events, with the possible exception of 
the chief bandit himself — "Old Shafer," who 
forms the subject of a special story to follow. 
Dr. John F. Shronts, the well known pion- 
eer doctor of Momence, as a young man just 
out of college, sought a location for the prac- 
tice of his profession near to the cross-roads 
where stands the hamlet of Lake Village, In- 



150 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

diana. Here, in the heart of the Beaver Lake 
country, he occupied a primitive log cabin and 
hung out his shingle as M. D. as early as 1868 
or 1869. Here, for years, he practiced, later 
removing to Momence, Illinois. A queer place, 
you may think, for a young doctor to light 
upon, a place without prospect or future, 
whose inhabitants, in the main, were of the 
criminal stripe and desperate. But the facts 
are these men were just as susceptible to chills 
and fever and "swamp ague" as the "squat- 
ter" trapper and woodsman, of whom, to use 
the vernacular of the marsh of that day, "thar 
wuz a considerable sprinkling." There was a 
broken arm and broken leg, now and then, to 
be adjusted and at such times when the boys 
of questionable character and calling cele- 
brated a successful "haul" on the outside by 
raising high-jinks in their island stronghold 
for days at a time — when liquor flowed free- 
ly and enthusiasm ran high — not infrequent- 
ly the lone doctor was sought by them to treat 
a gun-shot wound or repair a damage caused 
by fists. Boys will be boys, and the best of 
friends fall out now and then ! 

Dr. Shronts used to recall that, on his 
first visit to the secret places of the island 
banditti, he was obliged to submit to being 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 151 

blind-folded on going in and coming out of 
the place. In the course of the years, how- 
ever, this precaution was dispensed with. For 
years he knew of the secret "hog-back high- 
way" but was unable to locate it by his own 
knowledge unaided. But the Doctor concern- 
ed himself only in his profession and was care- 
ful not to show too great an interest in the 
past life and doings of his patients. Withal, 
he was discreet, cautious, careful not to let 
drop the least hint of gossip or criticism re- 
lating to the affairs of this underworld clien- 
tele so that in the end he held their confidence 
as no other man of the lake region ever did. 
Long after he had removed to Momence, Dr. 
Shronts was called by the swamp folk gener- 
ally, in time of need, and by members of the 
island banditti particularly whenever the em- 
ergency arose. By day and by night he trav- 
eled the precarious footing of "Lyon's Lane," 
to still more precarious and uncertain trails 
which wound about through thicket and scrub 
and miniature sand-dunes, and which led, fin- 
ally to the humble cabin of the trapper and 
hunter or the more isolated abodes of the 
"Bogus Island" bandits. It was a faithful 
service he rendered these habitants of the 
Lake region during all the days he lived — sum- 



152 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

mer or winter in fair weather and foul, day 
or night. 

The incident is recalled of one occasion 
when Dr. Shronts was out of town, a messen- 
ger from Bogus Island sought him on behalf 
of one of their number who had been kicked 
by a horse. In the absence of Dr. Shronts his 
colleague, Dr. H. M. Keyser, was appealed to. 
The Doctor was reluctant at first to under- 
take the trip for the reputation of the pros- 
pective patient, a habitue of "Little Bogus," 
was not altogether reassuring. In his pro- 
fessional experience he had had but little to 
do with them. The messenger offered him a 
double fee, but the Doctor soon made it clear 
that his unwillingness, in this case, was not so 
much a matter of the fee as it was a matter 
of safety for himself and his horse. "Suppos- 
ing," said the Doctor, "that someone of your 
number fancied my horse and helped himself 
to it? What a predicament I would be in! 
What assurance have I that this will not hap- 
pen?" The messenger smiled grimly and re- 
plied : "When men of our stripe give a promise 
they live up to it. Should your horse be stolen, 
I promise that you will be supplied with a bet- 
ter one ! I will take you in and bring you back, 
and pay you well besides." And, thus assured, 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 153 

Dr. Keyser made the trip to Bogus Island. 
And these men of shady reputation and des- 
perate character treated him royally. 

The passing of Dr. John F. Shronts in 
many respects was marked like the closing 
of an epoch — like the last chapter in a tale of 
stirring events of red-blood days brought to 
a point where the frontier "faded out" and 
present day civilization began. What wealth 
of stirring reminiscence and thrilling incident 
of the old, lawless days of the lake country 
passed beyond mortal ken with the passing 
of the old Doctor, we can only surmise. We 
do know that it was considerable and that its 
loss to the generation of today is irreparable. 



154 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



"OLD SHAFER" OF THE KANKAKEE 
MARSH 

Verily, the way of the transgressor is 
hard ; and to him that showeth not mercy, in 
the end mercy shall be denied. To make use 
of still another truism evolved from the sum 
of human experiences throughout the ages, 
"He who lives by the sword shall perish by 
the sword." "Old Shafer," of the black Marsh, 
as the country contiguous to famous "Bogus 
Island" over the line in Indiana, was known 
in the early days, was a most sinister and 
forbidding character. He was an outlaw 
steeped in crime, who ruled the isolated swamp 
region of the Kankakee Marshes with an 
iron hand. Where the law of organized so- 
ciety had not permeated in that early day he 
was a law unto himself, and many a thief, 
counterfeiter and assassin found asylum there 
when pressed too hard by the civil authori- 
ties. "Old Shafer," as he was known far and 
wide, was not old in years. He was old in 
crime hence the title, "Old Shafer." Appar- 
ently there was no crime in the criminal cal- 
endar of that day, from petty larceny to mur- 
der, of which "Old Shaf." was not guilty. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 155 

Moreover, he sometimes boasted of it, shock- 
ing as the statement may seem. 

Where Mike Shafer came from no one 
knows. That part of his life is a sealed book. 
He operated from famous "Shafer Ridge," in 
the Beaver Lake country during the fifties 
and up until his death in 1869. By many it is 
said that he began his operations there as 
far back as 1844. The gossip of that early day 
in the swamps credited him with being a man 
of unusual attainments in the matter of edu- 
cation. He is said to have been a graduate of 
one of the great eastern colleges. That Mike 
Shafer was not his real name but an assumed 
one, there can be little doubt. Opinion of the 
countryside, however, is a unit in ascribing to 
him the doubtful honor of being one of the 
most formidable outlaws that ever operated in 
the Mississippi valley in a day when the fron- 
tier gave asylum to the worst of them. He 
made his word the law in the little domain in 
which he operated and he enforced that law 
in the most vigorous and summary manner. 
That he was for so long a thorn in the side 
of the little frontier settlement of Momence, 
that he so long eluded successfully the clutch- 
es of the law, is a tribute at once to his nerve, 



156 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

cunning and consumate skill by which he dir- 
ected the underworld forces under his com- 
mand. 

Mrs. Nutt and Mrs. Alzada Hopper, now 
residents of Momence, were the daughters of 
Hugh Williamson. Williamson was a hunter 
who, in 1863, left Kankakee City and took up 
his abode in the Kankakee marshes with his 
family. In that early day the "Beaver Lake" 
region, as it was known, was a hunter's par- 
adise with its thousands of acres of swampy 
stretches studded with musk-rat houses, and 
flanked by wild-rice and towering cat-tails 
and bulrushes. Here and there an island ap- 
peared and these were heavily timbered with 
oak and tangled, almost impenetrable scrub- 
oak. As a breeding ground and natural re- 
treat for wild game this ancient habitat has 
seldom been equalled and never surpassed 
anywhere in the Mississippi basin. 

In the days of the early sixties when Wil- 
liamson took up his abode there, the wild deer 
were still very plentiful and numbers of them 
fell before his rifle. There were times when 
he would load the wide pole-rack of his wag- 
on with the carcasses of deer, piling them 
high, one upon the other like cord-wood, and 
take them to Momence, where he disposed of 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 157 

them to the butcher shops, stores, or anyone 
wanting them. At other times when the lo- 
cal markets had been well supplied, he sought 
Chicago, fifty miles away. It was a day when 
venison held it own with the products of a 
gradually developing civilization, and more 
often than not the carcass of a deer held the 
place of vantage on a hook outside the market 
door. 

Years before Williamson took up his 
abode in the marsh and built his primitive log 
cabin on the ridge to the north-east of "Lit- 
tle Bogus," the counterfeiters and horse 
thieves had established their headquarters 
within its protecting environs. Here from as 
far back as the early thirties, they carried on 
successfully their nefarious business and, ap- 
parently, gave little heed to the humble hun- 
ter or trapper so long as he showed the good 
sense to keep a bridle on his tongue, and did 
not interest himself too much in their affairs 
or try to see too much. Among these dwell- 
ers of the marsh region who made a vocation 
of hunting and trapping, the sinister quali- 
ties of their associates were recognized in a 
way, and popular gossip attributed to each 
certain dark and devious pursuits as well as 
certain crimes of which they whispered fur- 



158 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

tively and cautiously among themselves. The 
"grape-vine telegraph" of that day was an 
effective disseminator of the "news" of this 
underworld retreat, and these tales as they 
passed from one to another, lost not one jot 
nor tittle, but gained in interesting detail as 
they made the rounds. These tales were not 
mere fabrications altogether ; a thread of fact 
and truth ran through them all. 

Mrs. Nutt and her sister, Mrs. Hopper, 
as girls in this frontier stronghold knew "Old 
Shafer." He was sometimes a caller at their 
cabin where he conversed with their father. 
Mrs. Nutt recalls that he was a powerful man, 
with a good head and as fine and regular a 
set of teeth as any man was ever blessed with. 
To her father he remarked one day: "Wil- 
liamson, I shot a man once, and all I could 
shake out of him was a dollar!" "That might 
sound like bravado," said Mrs. Nutt, "but you 
can not make me believe but "Old Shafer" 
told the truth for once." If other tales con- 
cerning him are to be given similar credence 
then, somewhere amid the low-lying sand 
dunes and scrub-oak isles that surrounded his 
cabin there is secreted to this day a nail-keg 
containing a goodly quantity of gold pieces — 
the sum of the profits yielded to this master 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 159 

criminal during a lifetime. So persistent was 
the story of this hidden wealth that, after his 
death, search was made for it in and about 
the place but without success. There were 
casks containing pork and beef, but the fab- 
led nail-keg and its treasure is still undiscov- 
ered. 

But the legend of the nail-keg and its 
contents of golden eagles still lives in the 
memory of the countryside, and, after the 
lapse of half a century, there are those who 
believe that someone, sometime, more lucky 
than the rest will stumble upon it by accident. 
You ask an old-time resident of the marsh 
country and he will tell you that most certain- 
ly "Old Shafer" left a quantity of gold se- 
creted somewhere. No question about that. 
Years ago there were those of the older resi- 
dents who avowed by all that was good and 
great that they had beheld the ghost of "Old 
Shafer" on certain nights prowling among the 
oaks in the near vicinity of his cabin home, 
one end of which was dug into the side of a 
sand-dune. Not one but several claim to have 
beheld these nocturnal visitations by the spec- 
tral figure of "Old Shafer," on some special 
mission bent, and once when the moonlight 
glinting through an open space in the oaks fell 



160 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

full upon the massive back, lo, there appear- 
ed the gaping gunshot wound, evidence 
enough for any reasonable person that the 
wraith was that of Shafer and no one else. 
Little wonder that these simple folk of the 
swamps should spin these phantasies of the 
formidable Shafer and clothe his memory with 
attributes approaching the supernatural. 

Notable among the varied accomplish- 
ments attributed to "Old Shafer" was his abil- 
ity to change distinguishing spots and marks 
on a horse. Many maintain that such was 
the excellence of his art that he could trans- 
form a white horse into a bright bay, or a 
bay to glossy chestnut or black. He was a 
wizard, deep and uncanny, whose operations 
in this line still linger in the memory of the 
swamp folk whose gossip and legends con- 
cerning him are as varied and colorful as the 
best examples of work ever turned out by 
this master hand. Shafer's cabin home was 
situated two miles west .and one and one- 
quarter miles south of the village of Rose 
Lawn, Indiana, on an oak-studded sand-ridge 
that bears the name of "Shafer's Ridge" to 
this day. This ridge laid along the northern 
edge of what was termed "The Black Marsh," 
and was some five or six miles distant from 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 161 

the rendezvous of the horse thieves on "Big 
Bogus" island to the south. He thus main- 
tained the appearance of having no connec- 
tion with the band on "Big Bogus" island, but 
was conveniently near to lend a hand in their 
operations. 

Frequently a stolen horse with marks so 
prominent as to make identification easy, was 
run through the marsh to Shafer's "studio," 
in the brush, there to undergo such changes 
as the exigencies of the case made necessary 
or advisable. Shafer's practiced eye and 
skillful hand soon transformed the tell-tale 
marks so that one might go with an animal 
thus treated out into the highways of the 
world with little fear of detection. Of course, 
the transformation was accomplished by 
means of dyes. These dyes were of his own 
concocting and were brewed from certain 
barks and roots found in the wild. Austin 
Dexter, whose eighty years of continuous re- 
sidence in the marsh and whose knowledge of 
Shafer's methods entitle him to consideration, 
rather scouts the idea that Shafer went so 
far as to change the color of a horse entire- 
ly. In most cases it would not be necessary. 
When it came to changing the spots on an 
animal, however, he was very skillful. A like- 



162 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

\y looking horse that needed only a white star 
in the forehead to completely baffle descrip- 
tion, was treated in an unique manner. The 
animal's head was first firmly secured be- 
tween two posts and then a boiled potato, hot 
out of the kettle, would be bound to the fore- 
head and left long enough to blister the skin, 
so that the hair would fall out. After five 
or six weeks the scar healed and the new hair 
that came in was always white, and the star 
thus produced was a permanent one. 

That blackest of all crimes included in 
the criminal repretoire of "Old Shafer," was 
when he deliberately murdered his youngest 
daughter. This girl of ten years observed the 
unusual operations that went on about her, 
and was curious and questioning, after the 
manner of a child, but, despite numerous 
warnings to be silent, she prattled innocently 
of it all in the presence of strangers. One day 
when a posse in search of two stolen horses 
stopped at Shafer's place, they questioned him 
closely concerning them. The old bandit 
stoutly denied having seen them, although in 
reality they had passed through his hands 
several days before, when suddenly the girl 
exclaimed: "Why, papa, don't you remember 
those men with the horses who stopped here 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 163 



only day before yesterday?" He cuffed the 
girl soundly and told her to go about her busi- 
ness. He then did some tall lying in order 
to extricate himself, although the men in the 
posse were far from satisfied, and regarded 
the incident of the girl as significant. Shaf- 
er* s rage knew no bounds and then and there 
he resolved to make away with the child. 
Shortly after that, on the pretext of picking 
blue-berries which grew abundantly on the 
sandy intervals of the marsh, Shafer and the 
girl left the cabin. Shafer returned alone 
but the girl was never seen again. 

He cut her throat with a butcher knife, 
at least that is the legend of the swamps, and 
tearing out her hair he scattered it in hand- 
fuls in a lonely spot in the scrub to make it 
appear that she had been attacked and de- 
voured by the wolves. Shafer' s oldest daugh- 
ter, (he had but two), believed the story of 
the father implicitly. Later, when the mother 
was on her death bed, she called the girl to 
her and, drawing her close whispered the aw- 
ful details of the father's crime and urged 
her to fly from the accursed spot to a place 
of safety. Dismayed, overwhelmed by this 
startling intelligence, the daughter did as she 
was directed and ran away, but not until the 



164 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

mother, after repeated urging, commanded 
her to. "I can't die but once," said the mother 
to the weeping girl; "for me the end is not 
far off; but you — you who will still live when 
I am gone, what can there be for you in this 
hell-hole of iniquity but sorrow? So, fly, fly. 
Go as far away as you can and — forget, forget 
this horrid thing — forget everything, every- 
thing, except that your mother loved you." 

And thus obeying a mother's injunction 
"Old Shafer's" daughter set her face resolute- 
ly to the south and made her way slowly, care- 
fully, cautiously out of the great Kankakee 
swamps in quest of that mystic land where, 
perchance, happiness might be found. One 
John Coff elt, helped the girl as far as the Wa- 
bash, and from that far-off day until the pres- 
ent no word has ever been received from her. 
John Coff elt was a son of Justice Coff elt who, 
at that time, lived on the edge of the swamp. 
Justice Coffelt had at one time bound Shafer 
over to the grand jury on a charge of har- 
boring stolen horses. In some manner it 
came to the knowledge of Shafer that John 
Coffelt had aided his daughter in her flight. 
The result of it all was that in a short time 
Coffelt lost nine head of horses. Such was 
the effectiveness of the book-keeping system 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 165 

employed by this thief of long memory and 
implacable mood. 

After the departure of his daughter and 
the death of his wife, who did not long sur- 
vive, Shafer was left alone save for such com- 
pany of his own peculiar "stripe" who now 
and then sought him out on business bent. If 
he sometimes thought of the past, if some- 
times he fled from his own thoughts, terror 
stricken after sleepless nights, when the 
shades of his many victims walked in ghastly 
procession before his staring eyes, the "grape- 
vine telegraph" of the dunes and swamps 
gave not the slightest hint or intimation. 
Rather, there was increased activity on the 
part of all the sinister forces harbored with- 
in the protecting confines of the "Beaver 
Lake" country, and "Old Shafer's" keen men- 
tality and indefatigable energy were behind 
many a successful raid. 

Mr. Walter B. Hess, of Momence, whose 
citizenship dates back to 1839, was, for many 
years, head of the law and order forces that 
made war on the banditti of the "Bogus Is- 
land" stronghold. He it was who succeeded 
in conducting the Danville authorities into 
the place. A horse thief was shot and "Old 
Shafer" was arrested. Shafer served a short 







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AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 167 

term in the penitentiary as a result of this 
raid but on his return, he took up his nefar- 
ious business where he had left off. Such was 
the strength of his vengeance, such the cun- 
ning and devilish ingenuity he exercised that 
in the twelve years following his release from 
the penitentiary Mr. Hess lost fifty-three head 
of horses poisoned, shot, cut to pieces and 
stolen. One night his barn east of Momence 
was entered and eight horses contained there- 
in were poisoned. Two of these had their 
tails cut off and they were otherwise muti- 
lated. The barn was still locked on the follow- 
ing morning. And "Old Shafer" gloated over 
the toll he had exacted from his arch enemy, 
for these raids had been conducted with such 
consumate skill that not the slightest trace 
had been left by which the legal authorities 
could reach him. 

After a life of crime which extended over 
many years, during which he served a short 
jail sentence or two, "Old Shafer" fell by the 
same means he had so often employed. He 
was shot in the back at short range, the charge 
of buckshot tearing a frightful hole in his 
body and dropping him in his tracks. Details 
as given by the swamp folk are meager and 
conflicting. One report has it that Shafer's 



168 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

assassin crept up to his cabin in the early 
dusk of March and shot through the window 
while he was engaged in frying a panful of 
bacon over the open blaze of the fireplace; 
that he lunged head first into and face down- 
wards into the blaze atop of the frying-pan, 
and that when found some time later, the fire 
had burned out but not before it had burned 
the upper part of Shafer's body until it was 
a black, charred mass, almost unrecognizable. 
Mrs. Nutt and Mrs. Hopper give quite 
another version. Shaf er was shot in the back 
at close range as he was about to enter his 
cabin. At the entrance to his cabin there were 
two or three log steps placed in a shallow area- 
way that led down to the door, and "Old 
Shafer" stood on the topmost of these steps 
when the fatal shot was fired. In his right 
hand he held the bail of a small iron kettle and 
in his left, clutched in a death-grip, was an 
old dish-rag. The assassin gathered leaves 
and small branches with which he surround- 
ed the body as it laid there, and set them on 
fire with the evident intention of cremating 
the body of the old bandit in his own premises. 
The leaves burned out but failed to ignite the 
brush and, barring a scorched or charred spot 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 169 

here and there, the body was practically un- 
touched. 

John Jenkins, of Berrien county, Michi- 
gan, located in the marsh and in the Town- 
ship of Lake in the year 1865. Shafer was 
killed in March of 1869 and in the interim 
Jenkins had been elected to the office of Jus- 
tice-of-the-peace. On hearing the news of 
Shafer's death early the following morning, 
he proceeded to look up the law to see what 
his duties as Justice were in the emergency, 
there being no regularly qualified coroner 
available. He found that the law provided 
that the Justice should conduct ari inquest in 
such cases. Accordingly he repaired to the 
Shafer home, viewed the body and took note 
of the surroundings, and then gave orders 
authorizing the removal of the body to his 
home. Mr. Jenkins at that time lived on the 
south-east corner of the section that adjoins 
the present village of Lake on the west, his 
home being located on the north side of the 
road about a quarter of a mile from the cor- 
oner, west. Situated a little ways to the south- 
east of his home, Mr. Jenkins had a log black- 
smith shop where work for the neighborhood 
was carried on, and to this place the body of 
"Old Shafer" was directed to be brought. It 



170 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

was late in the afternoon when the body ar- 
rived. Two barrels were upended, a wide 
puncheon slab laid thereon and there, in such 
state as the limited facilities of the frontier 
afforded rested the body of the grim old 
bandit of the marsh in all its wretchedness, 
still clutching in his left hand the old dish- 
rag, and with the grime of the day's work up- 
on him. 

Dr. John F. Shronts, who first began the 
practice of medicine in this swamp region, 
later moving to Momence, was authorized by 
Mr. Jenkins to perform an autopsy on the 
body as the law requires. The day was far 
spent — in fact it was quite dark by the time 
Dr. Shronts arrived, so that it became neces- 
sary for the Doctor to work by the dim, uncer- 
tain light of tallow candles. These were held 
conveniently by various members of the jury 
who followed the Doctor's every move in the 
gruesome procedure in evident absorption. 
What a gathering was that of typical frontier 
types that thronged the little road-side black- 
smith shop that night — that last night "Old 
Shaf er" spent this side of the grave ! Thrilled 
by the news of his sudden and tragic demise 
and that an inquest had been ordered, a most 
unusual thing for that day, better than a 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 171 

score of Beaver Lake dwellers gathered at 
the little shop on the roadside, interested spec- 
tators of all that went on. Dressed in the 
rough, weatherworn garb of the hunter and 
trapper, each one with that indispensable ac- 
companiment of frontier life, a dog or two 
of the hound species, they surged in and about 
the place in their eager anxiety to follow ev- 
ery move of the surgeon. Really, Shafer's 
taking off was an event. The burden of dread 
under which the community had lived for so 
many years had thus been suddenly lifted, 
and that sense of relief experienced by the 
populace at the passing of so formidable a 
menace as "Old Shaf er" was clearly manifest- 
ed by a perfect babble of conversation that 
left no phase of the dead man's life untouched. 
To the general feeling of security and well- 
being was added, in most cases, a glow of 
complete satisfaction inspired by generous 
drinks of whiskey. 

Now and then some member of the little 
company of onlookers that peered through 
the open door into the yellow-lighted depths 
of the shop, felt a momentary tremor and a 
chill fn the region of the spine as he beheld 
the lifeless form, inert and motionless, helpless 
under the deft, swiftly moving hands of Dr. 



172 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Shronts. The soft cartilages of the ribs were 
severed one by one and the sternum entire 
lifted to an acute angle and nearly two doz- 
en large buck-shot taken from the cavity. The 
autopsy thus established beyond question or 
cavil that "Old Shafer" had come to his death 
from the effects of these buck-shot, fired in- 
to his back from a gun in the hands of some 
person unknown to the jury. There were the 
buck-shot — a teaspoonful of them — enough to 
kill three men. And Shafer's neighbors who 
thus talked of it " 'Lowed thar wuz none too 
many at that! Just a safe, comfortable load 
for a man like Mike Shafer — one couldn't be 
too careful when hunting game like Mike!" 
At the conclusion of the autopsy the crowd 
withdrew; one by one the lights were extin- 
guished; the door of the wayside shop was 
closed and latched and if anyone watched be- 
side that lonely bier that night it was only the 
invisible spirits of darkness with which he had 
fraternized in life. 

At the Jenkins home across the road the 
investigation was renewed with a view to dis- 
covering, if possible, the perpetrator of the 
crime, although the public, in this instance, 
did not look upon it as a crime particularly. 
Two men, Baum and Cushinberry, frequenters 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 173 

of the swamp concerning whose affairs little 
or nothing was known, were examined. Their 
stories were conflicting. They admitted hav- 
ing had some dealings with Shafer the day 
before he was found dead at his cabin. Re- 
luctantly they admitted that they had had a 
falling out and that Shafer, in his stormy way, 
had threatened them both with death. Al- 
though the two operated much together, there 
was a notable discrepancy in the testimony 
they gave concerning their business affairs. 
Harking back to that night of more than a 
half century ago, Mr. A. B. Jenkins, now of 
Morocco, Indiana, then a lad of eleven years, 
recalls the furtive, shifty manner, in which 
they gave their testimony and has no hesi- 
tancy in pronouncing them the real culprits. 
They were told to hold themselves in readi- 
ness to appear before the jury again next day 
but, instead, they set out on foot in the dark- 
ness for the nearby Illinois state-line. Captain 
Silas Sink, a resident of the Beaver Lake 
country, who was returning from Momence 
late that night, met them only a mile or so 
east of the state-line. The wives of Baum and 
Cushinberry, after several months, left the 
country and joined them in all probability. 
They were never heard from after that In 



174 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

the course of time it came out that these men 
were counterfeiters, working in collusion with 
Shafer. 

Fred Tanner, a resident of the Beaver 
Lake country towards whom suspicion pointed 
an accusing finger, was held to the grand jury 
as a result of the coroner's jury investigations. 
It was brought out that there had been a bit- 
ter feud between Shafer and Tanner result- 
ing from Tanner having lost several head of 
colts which he charged Shafer with having 
fed with poisoned corn. Tanner was emphatic 
in his charge against Shafer and most persis- 
tent in his efforts to make the old outlaw pay 
for them. So insistent did Tanner become in 
pressing his claim for the colts that "Old 
Shafer" was finally driven to the extremity 
of issuing an ultimatum, the gist of which 
was something as follows: "I am not going 
to pay a cent for the horses but, I am going 
on your trail with a gun at ten o'clock tomor- 
row, and when I get through with you, your 
hide wont hold ear corn !" And those who knew 
anything of Shaf er's iron will and implacable 
spirit, once they were aroused, knew that a 
statement of that nature from him meant 
serious trouble if not bloodshed. The trial of 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 175 

Tanner later by the civil authorities resulted 
in his being acquitted. 

Shafer was buried the following morn- 
ing. There was no semblance of a funeral. 
Those were primitive days in the Lake coun- 
try and the deceased inspired merely a sense 
of relief, now that he was gone. The remains 
with only the scant covering afforded by the 
half-burnt clothes he wore the day he was 
killed, were deposited in the bed of a lumber 
wagon and conveyed to the little frontier 
cemetery that now serves the town of Lake 
Village, two miles away to the north-west, 
on a high, sandy knoll. Following the wagon 
as it moved along the sandy trail were eight 
or ten marsh citizens who had helped to swell 
the crowd at the autopsy and who were ani- 
mated by a desire "to see the thing through." 
Several were on horseback; others walked, 
and as they walked they smoked and cracked 
jokes and laughed, while the hounds, ranging 
the countryside in joyous abandon, added their 
deep-toned baying to the medley of sounds 
more joyful than sad the day Shafer went to 
his long home. 

No coffin was provided, not even a rough 
box of boards. This man who for so long, out- 
raged the laws of God and man, who had 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 111 

murdered his own child and hid her body in 
the lonely waste with only a covering of sand, 
deserved nothing better for himself. In fact, 
the consensus of opinion was that he really 
did not deserve that much. So, a hole, a shal- 
low one, not a grave exactly, was hastily dug, 
the remains deposited therein and as hastily 
covered over. With the last shovelful on the 
mound the wielder of the shovel raised it high 
and brought it down with a resounding whack, 
remarking while the onlookers guffawed: 
"There you are, Mike Shafer, and may the 
devil make you dance a hornpipe on the hot- 
test griddle there is in hell." 

It is generally believed that the body of 
Shafer did not long remain in its lonely abode 
on the very peak of the wind-swept sand knoll. 
Several days later his grave showed unmis- 
takable signs of having been disturbed. Some 
said it was the work of the wolves. Others 
guessed shrewdly that it was the work of a 
younger set of boys who had avowed their 
intention of stringing the body of Shafer up 
to a jack-oak tree. Mr. Jenkins is of the opin- 
ion that the skeleton of a body which the devil 
would not have claimed would, never-the-less, 
have been hailed as an valued accessory to a 
doctor's outfit in that day of the frontier. Var- 



178 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

ious rumors were rife concerning the final 
disposition of the body. He says imagination 
might picture a fire burning under a capacious 
old fashioned soap-kettle, set in some conven- 
ient copse of scrub-oak secure from prying 
eyes, wherein the body of the old bandit was 
gradually reduced, and not be far off the truth, 
possibly. And in that case, what could be 
more fitting as a finale to a life of crime than 
those well-known lines from Macbeth, where 
the witches chant — 

"Double, double toil and trouble, 
Fire burn and cauldon bubble!" 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 179 



JOHN HADDON MAKES A KILLING 

John Haddon was, for years well known 
in and about Momence as a hunter, trapper 
and all around frontiersman. He was a char- 
acter whose oddities are still recalled by some 
of the older residents. He was the last of the 
picturesque wilderness types that served the 
sparse settlements of the prairie as mail car- 
rier. When the Illinois Central built into 
Kankakee in 1853, Haddon lost his job. Prior 
to 1841 Momence citizens used to go to Chi- 
cago or Bunkum for their mail. When Mo- 
mence got a postoffice finally, in 1841 it is 
said, the mail was brought from Baileytown, 
Indiana, ten miles west of Michigan City, to 
Momence and Bourbonnais, by Oliver Warner. 
This route did not last long, evidently. Most 
of the old timers remember Heber Rexford 
who carried the mail on his back from Chica- 
go to old Bunkum by way of the Chicago- 
Vincennes Trail. Anselem Chipman succeed- 
ed Rexford on the mail route and Haddon fol- 
lowed Chipman. 

Mr. R. A. Hewitt recalls the story of Had- 
don and the deer as related by the late James 
S. Garrett. After losing his job as carrier of 
the mail, Haddon, in the early fifties, like 



180 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

many other of the early settlers about Mo- 
mence, spent a portion of the winter months 
in the timber along the Kankakee river east 
of Momence getting out logs, which were 
floated down to the saw-mill. Momence for a 
time, it is said, had the only saw-mill on the 
river between Wilmington and the Indiana 
state-line. It will be remembered by many 
that the remains of the old mill were still 
standing at late as 1873. 

On one of these winter trips of Haddon's 
to the timber he discovered a goodly herd of 
deer on one of the small islands nearby. Think- 
ing that fresh venison would be a welcome 
change from the regulation "pork and beans" 
of a winter camp, he crossed over to the island 
on the ice with axe and bowie-knife in hand. 
The herd, frightened by his approach, made a 
wild dash for the river. They no sooner struck 
the ice than they went sprawling in all di- 
rections. Haddon, as he pursued them on the 
ice found himself in pretty much the same pre- 
dicament, he being shod with boots full of 
hob-nails in the soles. The deer were help- 
less and so was he. But, in an instant, he re- 
solved that he would not let a mere matter of 
hob-nailed boots interfere with a "bag" so val- 
uable as this, so, down on the ice he sat, off 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 181 

came the boots and, like Bobby Burns' witch 
in Tarn O'Shanter, he didn't go after them in 
his "sark," but in his stockings. He complet- 
ed the slaughter of the herd, some ten or a 
dozen, and to his sorrow found that his feet 
were so badly frozen that it was with great 
difficulty that he got back to camp. 

Just what disposition was ever made of 
the venison and hides of this herd Mr. Garret 
was unable to say. Perhaps it was distributed 
among the numerous camps on the upper 
river after reserving a goodly portion for 
Haddon himself as he lingered in camp nurs- 
ing a pair of badly frozen feet. 

It is related of Haddon that one day when 
Yankee Robinson's show exhibited in Mo- 
mence, he attended. Clad in his unique fron- 
tiers garb of buckskin shirt and coon-skin cap 
Haddon was leaning against one of the poles 
that supported the top, when a circus employe 
spoke to him rather roughly and told him to 
get out of there. Haddon paid no attention 
to the fellow and again he yelled: "Say, you, 
get away from that pole and be damn quick 
about it." Haddon reached for his hunting 
knife with the remark : "You clear out of here 
yourself or I'll open you from end to end like 
a herrin'." And Haddon continued to lean 



182 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

against that pole until he became so weary he 
just had to sit down. 

Haddon always maintained that he had 
Indian blood in his veins and something of 
color was given to the statement by reason 
of his dark and swarthy countenance. For 
years, after the customs of developing civil- 
ization had gradually displaced those of the 
frontier, Haddon continued to wear the buck- 
skin hunting shirt and coon-skin cap, and al- 
ways at his side dangled the hunting knife of 
the woodsman. The old ferry that used to 
be operated in an early day west of the island- 
point at Momence, had, on each side of the 
river, great hewn white-oak posts set in the 
ground to which the ferry cable was made 
fast. Haddon, at some time, appropriated the 
post on the south side of the river and re- 
moved it to his farm (which later was owned 
by R. A. Hewitt), where, after all these years, 
it is still, in use. Mr. Hewitt tells that he dug 
it out, cut off a portion of it and re-set it to do 
duty as a gate-post. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 183 

"CHIEF WHITE FOOT" VISITS HIS 
BIRTH PLACE 

Mrs. Orra F. Allen, of Momence, has kind- 
ly furnished us the following incident concern- 
ing the old Pottawattomie chief "White Foot." 

In the year 1872 my father, Lewellyn H. 
Foster, and family, lived on a farm north and 
west of Momence, known as the Huntley farm. 
On a very hot day in the early spring of that 
year, we children, who were playing together 
in the yard, were very much surprised on be- 
holding an exceptionally large Indian and his 
squaw and two children coming into the yard. 
We children flew for the house and mother's 
protecting arms. 

The big Indian gave his name as "Chief 
White Foot," a Pottawattomie of the Prairie 
Band who, years before, when this was the 
domain of his people, had been born near 
unto where our home stood. He asked per- 
mission to pitch his camp for the night in the 
yard, which permission was readily granted. 
They remained for a portion of the following 
day, during which time "White Foot" silent- 
ly surveyed the surroundings of the land of 
his birth with evident satisfaction. Late in the 
afternoon they resumed their journey. Their 



184 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



objective was Beaver Lake, where they spent 
the summer. The Beaver Lake country, in 
that day, was a wonderful retreat for wild 
game. 

It is recalled that, upon their return in 
the early fall, it was quite cold. Again they 
asked permission to pitch their tepee in the 
yard. On this occasion, in the course of con- 
versation, "White Foot" proudly exhibited his 
bare feet, one of which, by some rare freak 
of nature, was much whiter than the other 
hence, the title "White Foot." The old chief 
was especially proud of his two sons and, on 
the other hand, was mean to his squaw, all 
of which was deeply impressed on the youth- 
ful minds of the children of our family. 

Chief White Foot was a very large Indian, 
and presented a very stunning appearance 
rigged in his Indian paraphernalia. He wore 
moccasins, a brilliantly colored blanket, and a 
very queer head-gear made up of beautiful 
eagle feathers and others of many colors. I 
remember my mother saying, after they had 
gone, that these colored feathers were from 
a very rare bird, rare even in that day. The 
squaw wore very large ear-rings of hammer- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 185 

ed silver, besides a quantity of beads, while 
her fingers were ornamented with large, 
showy rings of brass. She also wore a metal 
circlet on her ankle. The squaw, also, wore a 
bright colored blanket which completely envel- 
oped her ample form. She wore nothing on 
her head and neither did the sons. When 
they departed Chief White Foot gave to moth- 
er a beaded buckskin bag which is still pre- 
served as a prized memento of the old days. To 
my younger sister he gave a pair of beaded 
moccasins. 

This was the last ever seen of White Foot 
and his family in this neighborhood and the 
date 1872 probably marks the last of the hunt- 
ing parties of the Pottawattomi of the west, 
seeking the old haunts of their people on the 
Kankakee and over in the Indiana marshes. 



186 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



REMINISCENCES OF W. W. PARISH, 
SENIOR 

The following interesting reminiscences 
of one of .Momence's oldest and most popular 
citizens were happily collated by Hon. C. M. 
C. Buntain while Mr. Parish was at his best, 
and were published in the Momence Progress 
of December 27, 1912. These reminiscences fit 
in perfectly and form a most valuable contri- 
bution to the lore of early days in Kankakee 
county which it is the purpose of this volume 
to preserve. Mr. Parish's varied activities, 
his rise to affluence by means of frugality and 
industry, should prove an inspiration to the 
the youth of today, who enjoy advantages and 
opportunities undreamed of in the days when 
Mr. Parish came into the west. His story 
follows. 

"In 1840, in September, I left home in 
Naples, N. Y. for the west. I first drove over- 
land eighteen miles to Canandaigua, our coun- 
ty-seat then, by the so-called "strap railroad" 
to Rochester, then by the Erie Canal to Buf- 
falo, thence by boat to Chicago. This boat 
had no regular schedule. At Chicago or Mil- 
waukee there was then no harbor. We were 
landed by lighter. A small boat would come 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 187 

out to the steamer and received the passen- 
gers and the cargo. Chicago at this time was 
a small country village. I went overland from 
Chicago to Momence; stopped at a place on 
the "Sac Trail," called a hotel, about three 
miles south of Crete, but which was nothing 
more nor less than one of the old Pennsyl- 
vania wagon boxes. This hotel was kept by 
Mr. Brown. Later a substantial log house 
was substituted for the wagon-box hotel, and 
still later a frame house took its place. 

It will be remembered that the "Sac 
Trail" was an old Indian trail running from 
Detroit to St. Louis. When I reached Mo- 
mence, after a continuous trip of eighteen 
days, I found but one log house situated on 
the west side of what is now known as Range 
street, near the present site of Bur dick & 
Joubert's drug store. I hired out to A. S. 
Vail and Orson Beebe at fifty cents a day. As 
there were no stores in the village our trad- 
ing point for groceries, in fact everything, 
was Chicago. When we secured a mill on the 
Kankakee river then we had our rough lum- 
ber, but still had to haul all finishing lumber 
from Chicago. I have seen as many as two 
hundred wagons at one time camping on the 
river banks at Momence enroute to Chicago. 



188 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Cattle and hogs were driven to Chicago from 
as far south as Vermilion county, Illinois. I 
distinctly remember of seeing a drove of five 
hundred turkeys being driven to Chicago. 
They camped on the island in Momence over 
night. 

My wife and I began keeping house with 
the sum of sixty dollars. With my ox team 
and money, constituting all our property, we 
drove to Chicago for our household furniture. 
There were no homes between Momence and 
Goodenow. Returning with the furniture, our 
wagon was mired in the mud and sloughs, 
near what is now Harvey, Illinois. I carried 
my wife out of the wagon and then the gro- 
ceries and furniture, and with the aid of a 
log chain the oxen succeeded in drawing the 
empty wagon out of the almost impassable 
road. It took us one week to make the trip. Set- 
tled in our log house near Momence, in a new 
country, I began the only occupation at that 
time, apparently, open to man — farming. Our 
tools were all hand-made, and we made them. 
They consisted of an wooden plow, a wooden 
drag and a hand-sickle, and later, a cradle 
took its place. Our threshing floor was on 
the prairie. Oxen stamped out the grain and 
the wind separated the chaff from the wheat. 



AN D ALONG THE KANKAKEE 189 

Nature's threshing machine gave way to what 
was called a "Hedge-Hog" machine. 

During the period from 1840 to 1850, you 
had the choice of farm lands for $1.25 per 
acre. Wheat delivered in Chicago was worth 
35 cents a bushel; dressed pork, $1.50 per 
hundred; corn and oats, ten cents per bushel. 
I distinctly remember of giving 700 bushels 
of oats and corn mixed for an old horse, the 
first I ever owned. The first wheat I ever 
saw was in 1841. It was growing on a tract 
of land immediately east of the Chicago-Vin- 
cennes State Road, on the William (Squire) 
Nichols farm, east of the brick house (now 
standing) and east of the Chicago- Vincennes 
Road at the point marked by the stone "179." 
I helped to cut all this wheat with a hand sickle 
at fifty cents a day. The wheat yielded forty 
bushels an acre, and the market price was 35 
cents a bushel. 

As soon as the Illinois Central was built 
through the county, the price of land advanc- 
ed to $7 per acre, according to the distance 
from the railroad. Land values from this 
time gradually increased, and during the civil 
war I owned eighty acres of what is now 
occupied by the dwelling houses on the south 
side of the river, at Momence, and east of the 



190 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad. This 
tract was worth about forty or fifty dollars 
an acre. I sold wheat from this land that 
yielded thirty-five bushels to the acre, for 
which I received $2.20 per bushel at the Mo- 
mence mill. The land adjoining this tract, 
now owned by my son, is worth according to 
present values (1912), $200 per acre. Eighty 
acres of land in the Six-Mile Grove, near Mo- 
mence, where the Nichols cemetery is now lo- 
cated, was traded to William (Squire) Nichols 
for a span of mules. Prior to this mill we 
drove to Attica, Indiana, a distance of seventy- 
five miles, to have our wheat ground. This 
lasted but one year. Then we drove to Wil- 
mington, Illinois, a distance of thirty miles, 
for our flour. This continued for a number 
of years. 

The first corn I ever saw planted was by 
the father of Andrew Dayton, east of Mo- 
mence. His wife dropped the corn and he 
pushed the dirt over it with his foot. The 
first corn planter was a hand- jabber, plant- 
ing two rows at a time. Mr. John Wicks, of 
Momence, sold them. We drove twenty-five 
miles south of Momence to get our mail, and 
received it once a week. The manuscript was 
folded and sealed with a wafer. It took two 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 191 

months for a letter mailed in Naples, N. Y., 
to reach Momence. The postage was twenty- 
five cents, paid by the receiver. Lorain Bee- 
be was the first postmaster at Momence. The 
Kankakee river was the dividing line between 
Will and Iroquois counties, south of the river 
being Iroquois county- and Will (now Kanka- 
kee) county on the north. The county-seat 
of Iroquois county was Middleport, one mile 
west of what is now Watseka, on the Iroquois 
river. I frequently served as juror in the cir- 
cuit court there. Court would not last over 
a week or two. I heard Abraham Lincoln try 
a lawsuit there in 1840 or 1841. He came up 
from Danville on horseback. We used to gath- 
er around him and hear him tell his stories. 
I might say, in passing, that the next time I 
saw him was in his own home in Springfield, 
where I shook hands with him, the year he 
was nominated for the presidency. I was in 
Springfield for two days. He had a pile of 
rails in his back yard and before I came away 
they were all taken by the relic hunters. 

John Chamberlain, John Wertz and my- 
self were elected three "Side Judges" of Iro- 
quois county. Our duties were similar to 
those of the supervisors now. The county 
was badly in debt. Its debts were paid by 



192 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

county orders, and men bought these at fifty 
cents on the dollar and paid their taxes with 
them. We three decided to stop this, and by 
our efforts made them worth par. We then 
got some money, and the first thing we did 
was to put a roof on the court house. My 
colleagues were opposed to the carving out 
of Kankakee county from Iroquois and Will, 
and strenuously worked to retain the old 
boundaries, as I did for the new. The people 
by their votes settled the matter in a way 
satisfactory to me. It was a day's journey 
to the Middleport county-seat. Lawyers from 
Joliet rode horseback to Middleport to try 
cases, and Iroquois county lawyers rode to 
Joliet for the same purpose. My first tax re- 
ceipt was for fifteen cents, being the taxes 
on my sole property, a yoke of oxen. At this 
time the sheriff collected the taxes. They 
were paid to him on the old Lowe farm, near 
the present East Court street bridge over the 
Kankakee river. An overland trip to Joliet was 
a day's journey, the first stage being as far 
as Coon Grove, near Goodenow, the second 
stage the Twelve-Mile Grove, (twelve miles 
from Joliet), and the third stage the Five- 
Mile Grove. This was the route in dry roads 
and weather. In wet times, we traveled by 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 193 

the way of Bourbonnais — the first stage be- 
ing at the tavern of Uncle Tommy Durham, 
at Bourbonnais, and the next at Wilmington. 
During the sixties we were greatly both- 
ered by horse thieves. We organized an Anti- 
Horse Thief Association. We found that with- 
in a short time fifteen horses had been stolen 
within our immediate neighborhood. A nice 
span of grays were stolen one night from the 
barn of Zeno Brayton. I was delegated to 
hunt down the thief. Enlisting Hannibal 
Worcester, we drove to Crown Point, Ind., 
and traced the thief to Chicago, and found 
him and the horses five miles west of Chicago. 
I knew the team as soon as I saw them, ar- 
rested the thief, sold my horse, hitched one 
of the grays to the buggy and led the other. 
The friends at Momence knew we were com- 
ing and one hundred of them met us at Tower 
Creek, near the present Lankow farm, two 
miles west of Momence, on the Kankakee riv- 
er, and wanted to hang the thief. We were 
bringing him to Momence for trial before a 
justice-of-the-peace. Russel Seager prevailed 
upon the crowd not to hang him, and they de- 
sisted. We brought him to Momence from 
whence the sheriff took hijm to Kankakee. 
Later, he was indicted and made his escape 



194 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

from jail. We received from this thief five 
horses and colts belonging to Dick Griswold, 
and a saddle horse belonging to John Wickes. 
Our trip covered a period of four days. 

I attended the convention at Chicago 
that nominated Abraham Lincoln for the pres- 
idency ; was too poor to travel to hear the Lin- 
coln-Douglas debates. I heard Stephen A. 
Douglas speak at the Court House in Kanka- 
kee, during the presidential campaign. Knew 
him well. I was born and brought up a demo- 
crat, but voted the Republican ticket, begin- 
ning with President Polk, up to the present 
time." 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 195 



THE OLD LOG HOUSE 

This log house was built by Cornelius 
Cane for a residence in 1838, and was located 
about two and a half miles north-east of Mo- 
mence. The first election held in the county 
was held in this log house in 1840. Mr. Will- 
iam Nichols was elected Squire. John Cane, 
son of Cornelius Cane, was elected constable, 
and at the some election William Henry Har- 
rison, grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, 
was elected president of the United States. 
The campaign procession was led by two vio- 
lins, played by James and Nelson Graham, 
brothers of Mrs. Fred Knighthart, of Mo- 
mence. Thomas Grimes was marshal of the 
day on the Whig side. When W. W. Parish 
came to Illinois, he boarded with Mr. Cane, 
paying $1.25 per week for his board. They had 
corn dodger six days in the week, and biscuits 
and "chicken fixin's" on Sunday. Mr. Cane al- 
ways asked the same blessing, which was as 
follows: "Oh, Lord, we praise thee for the 
present refreshments; pardon our sins, give 
us grace and wisdom, that we may have the 
profits we gain thereby, for Jesus' sake — 
John, pass the corn dodger!" 



196 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



J "or r «,u v. J;du , 

run m'H< i !> ' : J. 



OIISO.V <U J'.LH 

UKNIJV n BLOOM. 



J \i'u) > . t.M 1 Ki;>!>.\ 






3\\r ■. \ v . 



IK A W. SMITH. 
PAL I, IJA'I 11 AU U 

ROHC 2 i OOPER 



T'uu^f? i ' <t : m i; 



KANKAKEE COUNTY'S FIRST 
BALLOT 

Kankakee County was Organized in 
1853. The Accompanying Engraving 
Shows the First Printed Ballot at the 
First Election for County Officers, 
June 21, 1853. The Location of the 
County Seat was Determined at This 
Election, Momence Being Defeated by 
"Kankakee Depot," as the City was 
Then Known. This Ballot was Found 
Among the Effects of the Late Henry 
S. Bloom. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 197 



MEMORIES OF THE OLD HILL BRIDGE 

Mrs. Argale Nichols, of Kankakee, still 
hale and hearty at ninety, was the eldest 
daughter of James Graham who came with 
his family from Indiana to the neighborhood 
of Momence, in the year 1838. The pioneer 
home of the Grahams was on the north side 
of the Kankakee river, near to the Chicago- 
Vincennes Trail, and not very far from fam- 
ous Hill Tavern which, however, was located 
on the south bank of the river. Sometime in 
the early forties, it may have been 1842, the 
first bridge was built over the Kankakee, on 
the line of the Chicago-Vincennes Road, near 
to where the Hill Tavern was located. 

She was a girl of seven or eight years at 
the time and her chief delight was to sit on 
the bank of the river and watch the efforts 
of Bonnie E. Boardman, as he scored and 
hewed and framed the heavy timbers. Board- 
man, she says, was the architect and chief 
workman on the old Hill bridge. The ford at 
this point on the trail was one of the finest 
and most practical on the river. The bed of 
the Kankakee here had many large, flat 
stones, disposed so that the road was fairly 



198 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

smooth. In the very early days this was a 
favorite spot for the Pottawattomi to come 
and spear fish. During those early days of 
her childhood, she says, the Kankakee was 
literally swarming with the finest fish, and 
often she turned her attention from the work- 
men scoring timbers to the river's crystal 
flood to behold the hordes of bass, pickerel, 
red-horse and sturgeon moving majestically 
head-on against the stream. Beaver Lake and 
the Kankakee swamps to the north-east, in 
that day, were the natural hatcheries for fish. 
Such another natural habitat for fish and wild 
fowl as the swamp region of the Kankakee, 
was never surpassed anywhere in the United 
States. 

After the timbers had been hewed and 
framed, the word was sent out that there was 
to be a "grand raisin'." Settlers from far and 
near responded in numbers and gave liberal- 
ly of their time and labor. Mr. Peter Strick- 
ler, of Iroquois, who died recently at the ripe 
age of 95, was present on this occasion and 
helped. It, was a jolly time, enlivened by gen- 
erous feeds, a la pioneer, at the tavern. Be- 
tween times there was plenty to drink, for 
whiskey in that day was not only plentiful 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 199 

but cheap. One could buy a gallon for twen- 
ty-five cents. 

During the years in which they lived on 
the Chicago- Vincennes Trail many were the 
Indians that visited them during the early 
spring and summer. The squaws had strings 
of beads and other articles of bead work, 
which they offered for sale together with ar- 
ticles of wearing apparel made of buckskin. 
Many of these nomadic visitors, in time, be- 
came well known to the members of the Gra- 
ham family, enough so that they often called 
.them by name. They were friendly, kindly, 
a little obtrusive at times perhaps, but, on 
the whole, the recollection, after all these 
years, reverts to them with feelings of gen- 
uine pleasure. 

Apples and other fruits raised by the In- 
diana farmers were readily obtained by the 
pioneer families living on the Chicago-Vin- 
cennes Trail, for this was the great highway 
over which much of this produce was hauled. 
Mrs. Nichols recalls that her mother used to 
pare and slice quantities of apples and peaches 
and then string them on a tape. Long strings 
of fruit were thus prepared, after which they 
were festooned about the house to undergo 
the process of drying. Large quantities of 



200 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

fruit were prepared in this way. The only 
other method employed was preserving. The 
idea of canned fruit as we have it in this day, 
had not been evolved at that time. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 201 

THE "GOLL DUMMED" RAILROAD 

That innovations stuck "hard" in the 
crop of the average pioneer there can be no 
doubt. Grandfather and grandmother William 
Nichols who established the well known Nich- 
ols home north of Momence, near to the Chi- 
cago-Vincennes Trail, in an early day, re- 
garded with considerable suspicion the new- 
fangled ideas of civilization. They were pion- 
eers bred in the bone, who always found the 
old-time methods sufficient unto their needs. 
It is related of them that, shortly after the 
building of the C. D. & V. railroad, now the 
Chicago & Eastern Illinois, they one day had 
occasion to cross the railroad track on their 
way to visit the Grahams. As they drew near 
the crossing a train, consisting of several an- 
tiquated coaches drawn by a wheezy, wood- 
burning engine, happened along. 

Their pioneer souls were thrilled by this 
most unusual sight and grandmother, in her 
excitement, grabbed grandfather Nichols by 
the arm with one hand while she pointed with 
the other, exclaiming as she did so, "Why, 
dad drat it, William, there's people a ridin' in 
them keers !" After the train had passed, they 
drove cautiously up onto the rails and grand- 



202 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

pa stopped squarely astride of them, and 
watched the spectre retreat until it was well 
out of sight. 

At the Grahams that clay, grandpa and 
grandma's unusual experience with the cars 
was easily the main topic of conversation. 
This experience may have been enlarged upon 
somewhat in the course of narration but, if 
so, they simply made use of a privilege which 
the world concedes to all who tell of startling 
things first hand. The railroad with its 
"keers," easily held th6 center of the stage 
that afternoon, and the terrible ravages of 
the dreaded "milk-sick," over in the Exline 
w r oods, was not mentioned once. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 203 

OLD-TIME TALES 

SELLING A COON TRACK 

In the days of 1840, when "Uncle Bill" 
Parish came to Momence, the Pottawattomi 
were still found in numbers occupying tepees 
in the woods along the Kankakee. Chiefly 
they were of the band of White Pigeon, inter- 
mingled with those who at one time, acknowl- 
edged the chieftainship of "Pierre Moran," 
a Frenchman who was a chief by reason of 
having married the daughter of a chief. This 
story told of "Uncle Bill," illustrates his well 
known speculative instinct. In that primitive 
day of the pioneer the fur-bsaring animals of 
the woods were sought industriously by every- 
body — Indian and white man alike. One day 
in the winter while traversing the woods east 
of town, Mr. Parish ran across the trail of 
a coon in the snow. He followed it for some 
distance until finally it terminated at a hol- 
low tree. Almost simultaneously there ap- 
peared a Pottawattomie Indian in quest of 
game. "Uncle Bill" was a quick thinker. Point- 
ing to the tracks of the coon in the snow he 
remarked: "I sell 'em for one dollar," at the 
same time holding up a finger significantly. 



204 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Much to his surprise the Indian replied: 
"You're on," at least it meant that in effect, 
for he handed over a dollar. Thus in undis- 
puted possession of the property, the Indian 
went after it and, by the time he had finished 
the job, he had taken out four fine coons. 
Four coon hides at the trader's brought "one 
plus," which was the equivalent of two dol- 
lars, to say nothing of the meat. Mr. Parish 
said that Indian did so well on that deal that 
he did not work again for a month. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 205 



"UNCLE MARK" ATHERTON AND THE 
TRAPPERS 

In 1851 Marcus A. Atherton came to Mo- 
mence. As a youth he was employed by F. M. 
Tompkins, who carried on a small tin shop 
in the near vicinity of the present tannery on 
River street. His very first piece of work 
was that of the spouting and guttering for 
the Strunk mansion which still lingers amid 
shadows of giant elms on the bank of the 
south branch on the island, a ghost of old days, 
grim and gray, unchanged since the days 
when Atherton worked on it. In 1853 Mr. 
Atherton engaged in a general mercantile bus- 
iness which he operated for many years. As 
a merchant he was distinctly typical of old 
times and new. 

In the old days of the early fifties in and 
about Momence, the hunter and trapper was 
a more important element in the trade of the 
backwoods store than the farmer, although 
this condition gradually changed as time went 
on and the country developed from frontier 
to the civilization of today. The river stretches 
of the Kankakee and the contiguous marshes 
afforded an ideal field for the operations 
of the trapper who sought the smaller fur- 



206 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

bearing animals. Coon, mink, skunk, fox and 
musk-rat pelts constituted, in a very great 
measure, the currency of the border among 
the hardy, picturesque trapper types who fre- 
quented the place. 

They were, as a rule, a happy-go-lucky 
improvident lot, whose shacks out in the tim- 
ber on the river were generally bare of lux- 
uries, yet whose owners lived on the fat of the 
land, nevertheless. Life's philosophy was sum- 
med up in the terse statement: "There will 
alw r ays be a river; there will always be tim- 
ber; there will always be game to trap; al- 
ways a little "corn liquor to drink, and a little 
terbacker to smoke !" What more did a man of 
the border want? Why worry about a fu- 
ture so full of promise? 

"Uncle Mark" Atherton stood "ace high" 
as the saying goes, with this primitive clien- 
tele of the river and the woods. For years 
he furnished them their supplies when the 
trapping season was on, extending credit until 
such a time when the season's catch was 
brought in. He was a fair man, a square man, 
who never held out the least iota in the weight 
of the bacon, corn meal, sugar and tea that 
went over his scale. The story is told of one 
man to whom "Uncle Mark" extended credit, 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 207 

who particularly insisted that he was "to 
take the varmint pelts as they run." "That's 
all right, said "Uncle Mark" accommodating- 
ly., "I'll take 'em as they run." 

The fall and winter passed and, one af- 
ter, another, the trappers to whom credit had 
been given dropped in and squared up, all 
but this particular individual. "Uncle Mark" 
met him one day and called his attention to the 
fact that his "credit" was overdue. "But you 
agreed to take them pelts as they run," said 
the debtor. "Of course I did," replied Mr. Ath- 
erton, "what's that got to do with the delay 
in paying?" "Oh, nothin', "drawled the trap- 
per, who was something of a wag, "only 
they're still a-runnin'." 

For the space of a minute or more "Uncle 
Mark" was swamped with righteous indigna- 
tion, and then the humor of the situation bore 
in upon him and he laughed. "That's a hoss 
on me," he acknowledged; "tell you what I'll 
do, though ; I'll give you credit on exactly the 
same terms, only I'll close the back door of the 
store and leave the front door open — you 
agreein' to shoo them pelts into the place 'as 
they run.' " The incident caused-much amuse- 
ment among the men of the border populace 
and cost "Uncle Mark" many and many a 



208 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

drink of "corn whiskey," until it seemed as 
though the "bar'l" in the back end of the store 
was in danger of giving out entirely under 
the long continued strain. The tenacity with 
which the frontier memory clung to this in- 
cident of the border was little short of mar- 
velous. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 209 



"NIGGER DOC" 

Among the many well known characters 
who, at one time or another, figured in the 
early-day population of Momence, was "Nig- 
ger Doc." How he came by the unique title 
of "Doc," the memory of the oldest inhabitant 
is at a loss to account for. He was a power- 
ful negro, jet black, of amiable disposition 
generally whose one great weakness was liqu- 
or. He was the butt of many a good natured 
joke and sally of wit — in short rather indis- 
pensable to that class of loungers who amused 
themselves at the expense of somebody else. 
Colonel Zeno Brayton, a popular early day 
business man of Momence, one day gave 
"Nigger Doc" a broad-brimmed black felt hat 
he had discarded. "Doc" was delighted with 
the gift. He made himself conspicuous with 
the new lid and never missed an opportunity 
to make known to the various ones he met 
that "Kunnel Zeno Brayton dun gave it to 
him." "Doc" was standing one day before the 
bar of the old saloon that used to stand on 
the west side of Range street all set to offer 
a libation to the god of fortune, the libation 
in this case being nothing less than a generous 
beer-mug filled to the brim with gin and about 



210 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

whose top "Doc's fingers closed that not one 
precious drop of the fluid might be lost, when 
Cal Hayes, a Momence blacksmith, sidled in. 
Hayes, for reasons best known to himself, had 
conceived a violent dislike for the black race 
and for "Nigger Doc" in particular. He had 
made open threats on various occasions 
"that he was a going to get Nigger Doc, and 
get him good." On this occasion as Hayes be- 
held "Doc" draining the gin from the beer- 
mug his hand sought his coat pocket and 
brought forth an old bandana handkerchief, 
in the corner of which he had tied a stone 
about the size of a hen's egg. With this for- 
midable implement he blazed away blindly at 
the negro's head. The blow was a terrific one 
but, aside from the momentary surprise of 
the attack, apparently did not feaze "Nigger 
Doc" for an instant. The assailant made for 
the back door of the saloon with the negro in 
pursuit. The back yard of this saloon was 
surrounded by a high board fence, forming a 
sort of bull-pen, where many a bout of fisti- 
cuffs and boxing had been pulled off in the 
past. Hayes, more agile than his pursuer, 
scrambled up and over the barricade like a cat 
and made his escape. "Doc" sauntered back 
into the saloon and, taking off the precious 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 211 

hat, showed the crowd a hole in the side of it 
made by the stone in the sling. High up on 
his head was a huge welt from which the 
blood trickled in a stream and, as he looked 
upon the hat, sorrowfully he ruminated : " Jes' 
look at dat beau'ful hat dat Kunnel Zeno 
Brayton dun give me — plum ruined by dat 
no-'eount Cal Hayes." 



212 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

JOE BARBEE, OF INDIAN GARDEN 

Like the opening of a door long unused — 
like the shifting of a window shade that has 
long been closely drawn — like a sudden gleam 
of sunshine revealing the treasures within, 
so, suddenly, there came to Mrs. Argale Nich- 
ols, she who was the eldest daughter of that 
pioneer settler at the "Upper Crossing," 
James Graham, recollections of an unique In- 
dian character of her childhood days on the 
Kankakee, eighty years ago. Mrs. Nichols re- 
calls perfectly that this Indian had a white 
man's name. He was known as Joe Barbee 
and his home was located above the Parmlee 
place on the Kankakee river. He was not an 
out and out Pottawattomie, but a half breed, 
whose dash of white blood was noticeable not 
so much in his physical appearance as in that 
peculiar bent of mind which led him to observe 
cleanliness, to speak English fluently, and 
to follow more or less successfully the occu- 
pations of the white man. 

Joe Barbee's place on the river was known 
far and wide among the pioneer settlers as 
"Indian Garden." It was a well kept spot ad- 
joining Dan Parmlee's famous "Garden of 
Eden," wherein vegetables were grown, as 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 213 

well as a limited variety of fruits, such as ap- 
ples, peaches, grapes and blackberries, which 
Joe attended to assiduously, thereby deriving 
great pleasure. Joe Barbee, the "working 
Indian," was the object of quiet speculation 
on the part of the people of the countryside 
and, as may be readily supposed, the subject 
of many an animated discussion. That he was 
a freak was the general consensus of opinion, 
as much of a freak as the "white robin," whose 
appearance now and then is solemnly affirmed 
by the naturalist. 

Joe Barbee's family consisted of a squaw 
and two daughters. They were essentially In- 
dian in appearance. Their features were set 
in the grim, unyielding stoicism so character- 
istic of the race. They never did smile, says 
Mrs. Nichols, although Joe Barbee, the fath- 
er of the girls, contrary to all the traditions 
of the Indian, would now and then flash a most 
engaging smile. The family frequently vis- 
ited the Graham home at the "Upper Cross- 
ing" on the Hubbard' Trace. Joe generally 
had quantities of fruit contained in neat wil- 
low baskets, while the women offered for sale 
articles of buckskin, ornamented after the ab- 
original manner with beads. Invariably the 
women of Joe's household wore blankets of 



214 * TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

white which were ornamented with broad 
bands of brilliant, dazzling red. But that thing 
which distinguished them as something sep- 
arate and apart from the Pottawattomi In 
general, was the fact that the blankets were 
CLEAN ! Apparently the white trace prevail- 
ed to just that extent. 

Joe Barbee's efforts and achievements in 
the horticultural line would constitute a most 
interesting chapter in the lore of the old days 
in and about Momence if we but knew of them. 
We do know however, that his efforts were 
not confined wholly to "Indian Garden/* but 
extended to an island in the Kankakee river 
above Shelby, Indiana, where he set out, in an 
early day, an excellent variety of grapes. The 
island was subsequently called "Grape Island" 
and by that name it is known today. Long af- 
ter Joe Barbee had gone, the settlers on the 
Kankakee knew of the excellence of the grapes 
of this particular island, and many and fanci- 
ful were the tales that were spun regarding 
their origin there. The late Stephen R. Moore, 
on various occasions, called our attention to 
Grape Island, insisting that the seeds of the 
species then extant were dropped by the early- 
day French explorers who navigated the wat- 
ers of the Kankakee. The theory is plans- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 215 

ible enough and Judge Moore may have been 
right in his assumption. But Joe Barbee, 
"the working Indian," half white, half Indian, 
was a wizard with roots, shoots and scions, 
some of which he planted in the soil of Grape 
Island where for years they continued to 
thrive and bear. 

The story is recalled by Mr. James Kirby 
of the day when chief White Pigeon and his 
band left the Kankakee in charge of govern- 
ment agents for their new home west of the 
Mississippi, near Council Bluffs, Iowa. "Uncle 
Sid" Vail and White Pigeon were very friend- 
ly and, as an evidence of appreciation of the 
friendship existing between them, invited the 
chief to his home, there to partake of dinner. 
White Pigeon, on this occasion, occupied the 
place of honor on the right of his host. He 
wore a towering crest of eagle feathers and 
further honored the event by wearing his best 
blanket. During the progress of the meal 
while "Uncle Sid" was voicing his regret that 
their friendly relations were so soon to ter- 
minate, the old chief suddenly encountered 
some item in the menu of which his taste did 
not quite approve. Quite unceremoniously 
and with a^ little hesitation as he would have 
shown had he been at home in his own tepee, 



216 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

he spat the offending morsel into his hand 
and tossed it carelessly under the table, some- 
what to the surprise of the host and the great 
discomfort of the hostess. White Pigeon was 
a man of few words and, while it is true that 
he was an imitator of the white man in many 
unimportant respects, his table manners could 
have been improved upon, at least so thought 
Mrs. Vail. Just what the aboriginal palate 
balked at in this case is a mystery, unsolved 
even unto this day. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 217 

A PLAGUE OF FROGS 

Who is there who has lived in Momence 
or nearby, who does not recall as having 
known at some time in his life big, fat, easy- 
going Ralph Day and his estimable spouse, 
Susie? Not a one, we dare say. One couldn't 
help but know Ralph Day, and knowing him, 
one couldn't help but like him. And Susie? 
She was a hustling, bustling, ministering spir- 
it of goodness and self-sacrifice among the in- 
habitants of the old river town of Momence for 
years, a never-failing angel of mercy and help- 
fulness at such times when help was most 
needed. They were a rare couple were Ralph 
Day and Susie, whose little eccentricities of 
thought and speech and action endeared them 
all the more to people of the little river settle- 
ment on the Kankakee. While this story con- 
cerns more particularly Ralph Day himself, 
any mention of him which failed to include 
the sharer of his joys and sorrows, would be 
regarded as an unpardonable omission. 

Ralph Day was a large, fleshy man who 
weighed, according to best reports, near to 
three hundred pounds. He was a jovial, good 
natured man, thus again sustaining the tra- 
dition of geniality ascribed to men of avoir- 



218 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

dupois generally. He lived on the corner di- 
rectly opposite the Charles Astle home, west. 
He used to attend to the work about the Cen- 
tral House bar and, during the extreme hot 
weather of late June and July and August, 
he would walk down to the river at such times 
when the north branch was not too high, and 
wade in to where the water came to about his 
waist, then topple over on his back and float — 
yes, float like a cork on the surface of the 
stream. Thus borne by the current he would 
float down opposite his home, several blocks 
away, regain his footing and walk out. He 
always deplored the fact that there was no 
way of floating upstream successfully, and 
the patrons of the Central House bar used 
to "rag" him considerably about it. 

There was one year when the frogs ap- 
peared in such numbers along the Kankakee 
as to set the "old-timers" all agog. None of 
them could recall a similar phenomenon in 
all the river's history. These frogs were so 
numerous in places that it was possible to lit- 
erally shovel them. Ralph, one day, burst in- 
to the bar-room breathless with excitement 
and exclaimed : "There's ten million frogs on 
the river between my house and the head of 
the island !" You oughta hear 'em — its a regu- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 219 

lar frog camp-meetin'." Charley Brassard, he 
who was familiarly known as "Bluch," was 
sitting in an arm-chair with his feet comfort- 
ably disposed on the sill of one of the front 
windows. He looked up as Day made the state- 
ment and remarked: "Say, Ralph, old kid, 
you're crazy. There ain't that many frogs in 
the world, pos-i-tively." 

"Yes they is, Bluch," persisted Ralph, 
"and I ain't crazy, neither !" 

"Yes you are," insisted Bluch, "you're 
crazier'n a bat. You talk like a child. There 
ain't a million frogs on the whole river and I 
got twenty dollars that says so." 

"Well, anyhow, I may be crazy, but I ain't 
no damn fool ; and I'll jes' go you twenty that 
I kin get ten thousand of them by tomorrer 
mornin'," replied Ralph defiantly. 

"I gotya," said Bluch; "put up and get 
out and hustle them frogs. And don't forget, 
I'll be lookin' for you !" 

Fred Knighthart was appealed to by 
Ralph to put up the money and, as he handed 
it over, the act was accompanied by a little ad- 
vice on the side, gratis, as follows: "Ralph, 
you'd better apologize to Bluch and ask his 
pardon, and save the twenty." But Day had 
his fighting blood aroused. "What! Me 'polo- 



220 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

gize to him? I will like 'el! Lissen to me — 
Gettin' them ten thousand frogs is jest as 
easy as stealin' corn from a blind sow ! I know 
what I'm doin'," said he ominously, whereat 
everybody roared. 

This novel bet was the talk of the place 
for the remainder of the day and a good bit 
of the night, and many of Ralph's friends who 
had laughed at the incident, secretly resolved 
to be on hand on the morrow and witness 
the outcome. The following morning Bluch 
Brassard, calm and imperturable, occupied his 
accustomed place by the window. He, of all 
the assembled throng, seemed least interested 
in the affair as he sat there gazing through 
the narrow slit in the wall that looked out 
upon Range street, now the "Dixie." And the 
crowd waited in pleasurable anticipation of "a 
scene," at such a time as Ralph did appear. 
There was going to be some fun, frogs or no 
frogs. 

It was nearing ten o'clock that morning 
when Ralph Day appeared. He drove a horse 
hitched to the shafts of a light wagon. There 
was a barrel in the wagon with a gunny-sack 
spread over its top, which hardly sufficed to 
muffle the mighty anvil chorus chant of its 
occupants. There was a disquieting gritting 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 221 

of "frog's teeth" that made the cold chills gal- 
lop up and down Bluch Brassard's back. Ralph 
Day's rotund face shone like a full harvest 
moon. There was victory written all over it. 
He had hardly stopped in front of the hotel 
when he roared : "Here's yer swamp canaries, 
Bluch, ol' man ; come and get 'em !" But Bluch 
never moved. "How do I know you've got ten 
thousand of 'em there?" he said at last. 

"Count 'em, count 'em, — you kin count 
can't yuh?" 

And then for a moment Ralph Day, in 
answer to numerous inquiries from those 
gathered about the wagon, explained radiant- 
ly that "there was just oodles upon oodles of 
frogs on the river — more'n ten hundred mil- 
lion of 'em — shoveled 'em up in the early 
mornin' — could have got a million as easy as 
ten thousand, barrin' the shovelin'." During 
this animated recital Bluch Brassard never 
batted an eye. "Want me to set 'em in yer lap 
so's you kin count 'em handy? interrogated 
Ralph. 

"Take 'em away," said Bluch curtly; "you 
win !" 

"Ain't yuh goin' t' look at 'em, Bluch," 
persisted Ralph, "after I've gone to all this 
trouble? The bar'l is mor'n half full! Lord 



222 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Amighty, they's never been a bunch of frogs 
like this in town before — not since them saw- 
mill frogs used to come from up-river and take 
over the town! Goin' to take the word of a 
crazy man that they's ten thousand of 'em, 
eh?" 

But Bluch only murmured: "Take 'em 
away! Take 'em away!" Then, turning his 
head in the direction of the bar, he met the 
questioning gaze of the bar-tender squarely 
and, by an almost imperceptible nod, flashed 
a message which, liberally interpreted, read: 
"Give Day the money and give the boys what- 
ever they like, as often as they like, and put 
the whole thing on one check." 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 223 

MAFFETT TELLS A "TALL ONE" 

Imagination, cleverness and ready wit 
are qualities that have inured to the more for- 
tunate of mankind in all walks of life, ever 
since the world began. These qualities are 
variously employed according to the inclina- 
tion and temperament of the individual. To 
illustrate — Charles Maff ett, an early-day resi- 
dent of Kankakee County living between Kan- 
kakee and Momence, was widely recognized 
as a teller of stories which were interesting, 
clever, amusing, "gripping," in addition to 
being well told. Maffett could tell a "tall one" 
in a most convincing way. They were lies — 
but harmless lies — in the main. Maffett's 
stories always "went over big," and many a 
bucolic youth, after having heard him tell one, 
charged his memory with the subject matter 
and later sought the glory of the limelight by 
repeating it as a product of his own. Charles 
Maffett was a large man weighing right 
around two hundred and seventy-five pounds. 
He had a pink and white complexion and was 
rotund to the point of obesity. He was a slow, 
deliberate speaker, and rarely ever forgot 
himself so far as to laugh at one of his own 
stories, which is evidence indisputable of the 
finished artist 



224 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

The story which he sprung on "Uncle Bill" 
Parish, of Momence, is still designated among 
the old-timers as a "Maffett Masterpiece." 
They met one day on the road to Momence, ex- 
changed greetings as they passed when, all at 
once, "Uncle Bill" pulled up his horses and 
called out: "Say, Maffett — tell me the biggest 
lie you ever heard tell of!" 

Maffett thus appealed to, stopped his 
team and replied somewhat hurriedly : " You'll 
have to excuse me this morning Bill. Really, 
I'm in an awful hurry. You know, old Elias 
Garrett dropped dead last night, and I've been 
up all night helpin' around, and I'm on my way 
to Deerson's now to get a coffin for him. Good 
Mornin' — giddap," and he clucked to his team. 
He kept on his way deaf to all importunities 
of "Uncle Bill" who sought to gain full par- 
ticulars concerning the demise of his neigh- 
bor, Garrett. "Uncle Bill" was shocked, taken 
off his feet completely by the startling 
news. He hurried home and told his wife who 
hurriedly patted her hair, slipped on her bon- 
net, and together the two set out for the Gar- 
rett home, sad of heart, appalled at the sud- 
denness with which death strikes. As they 
approached the Garrett residence they looked 
for some outward sign of the visitation of the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 225 

dread reaper. There was none. Judged from 
outside appearances it was a perfectly normal 
country household. There was no one moving 
about — inside or out — no teams hitched to the 
hitching posts, not a single saddle-horse vis- 
ible, at which they marveled somewhat. Quiet- 
ly they drove into the yard ; slowly, and with 
as little show of unbecoming haste as possible, 
they alighted from the vehicle and made their 
way slowly towards the house when, sudden- 
ly, from the direction of the barnyard, they 
were accosted by a hearty, cheerful "Halloo 
there, folks — good mornm' to you!" 

It was the corpse himself, hale, hearty 
and smiling who strode up to them and extend- 
ed his hand in a greeting which would have 
shamed the most able-bodied ghost that ever 
was. Ma Parish was speechless, dumbfound- 
ed, utterly undone. "Uncle Bill" was nervous, 
squeamish, decidedly upset at this unexpected 
denouement. Like a flash it came to him 
how he had been victimized by the wiley Maff- 
ett who, at his earnest solicitation, had ob- 
ligingly responded with "the biggest lie" that 
anybody ever heard tell of. 

Mrs. Parish looked at Elias Garrett and 
then at her husband with questioning eyes, 
and he, like a good sport, who finds it neces- 



226 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

sary at times to lay his cards face-up on the 
table, told the story of his meeting with Maff- 
ett, and that he had been the innocent dupe 
of his craftiness. There was a big laugh all 
around and, apparently, "the corpse" enjoyed 
the situation much more than did "Uncle Bill" 
judging from the noise he made. As they were 
about to leave, Mr. Garrett remarked : "Now, 
look here, Bill, when I do kick off for sure, I'm 
going to have word of it carried to you by 
somebody else 'sides Maffett, for I am fearful 
you would not believe him under any circum- 
stances now." And at that Mrs. Parish look- 
ed upon her husband pityingly and was moved 
to say: "William, I sometimes doubt the wis- 
dom of my letting youj go all alone out on the 
road and over to Momence among those awful 
men. You are so simple, so trusting, so gull- 
ible — there's no telling where we may be trap- 
seing to next!" 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 227 



THE ELDERS CLUB 

A good many years back in the history of 
Momence, there was a select and distinguished 
coterie made up of the older men of the little 
community who, in order to relieve the tedium 
of hours not too fully occupied with the weigh- 
ty affairs of life, organized a Club where they 
gathered daily and smoked, and spun yarns, 
and enjoyed themselves and each other gener- 
ally. Here all weighty questions of public or 
personal portent were discussed and threshed 
out and finally disposed of. Here, too, it of- 
ten happened that they wooed the Goddess of 
chance and fortune, that particular deity 
which is said to preside over the destinies of 
the game known as "Poker." The way these 
old boys camped on the trail of this particu- 
lar Goddess was something little short of 
scandalous. If ever there was an overworked 
Goddess, this titular deity of fortune that 
hung about the outskirts of the Club was it. 
You would be shocked if we were to spill the 
names of these old-time boys ! It would make 
the goose-flesh stand out all over you ! In or- 
der to avoid an epidemic of "goose-flesh,!" 
however, we have, on second thought, decided 
not to tell. We merely allude to them as "the 



228 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Elders/' hence, you may speculate to your 
heart's content. 

There were times when these old boys 
would sit all day and until far into the night 
around the big table, when the game ran 
strong and the spirit of man waxed stubborn 
and unyielding and he sought the out of doors 
only after he had "been mopped up clean." 
Among the company of elders was a suave, 
mild-mannered type of man, of whom it is 
said that often he would run amuck with noth- 
ing more than a pair of deuces. After throw- 
ing a scare into the company, he would quiet- 
ly gather in his cards and slip them into the 
deck and when importuned to tell just what he 
held, replied invariably in a voice that was 
melody itself, "no man knoweth unto this 
day!" 

There is a tradition that once, from the 
neighboring city of Kankakee, there came a 
trio of artists with "the spots," who sought 
the seclusion of this very club and did then 
and there stake their worldly goods against 
those of the elders of Momence. It was some 
tussle! For five days and nights they "sat," 
this youthful trio from Kankakee and the eld- 
ers of Momence. Meals were brought in, 
drinks and smokes likewise, and the unceas- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 229 

ing battle of the wits and the cards went on. 
Youth is buoyed up with confidence, exotic, 
luxuriant ; old age fortifies itself with caution 
and experience ! In the end caution and exper- 
ience prevailed. The elders of Momence prais- 
ed the work of the youthful trio from Kan- 
kakee, bought them tickets via the railroad 
and sent them home to their folks with the 
parting assurance that they would be glad to 
see them any time when they happened to be 
"in that neck o' the woods." 

We have been told on the "quiet" that 
Hoag was sent for with his dray to move the 
coin from the Club over to the bank, so great 
was the haul of treasure. In the interim, while 
the elders were recovering from the effects of 
this protracted session, it happened that, one 
day, one of them drew from his pocket, a hand- 
ful of loaf sugar squares which he distributed 
to those who sat about the big circular table. 
He then propounded this novel scheme: 

"Every fellow chips a quarter of a dollar 
into the "pot." Place your cube of sugar on 
the table before you and watch it closely ! The 
fellow on whose square of sugar a fly lights 
first takes the "pot!" The new idea was a 
"hit" right from the start, and the lowly, pes- 
tiferous fly, heretofore banned and shunned 



230 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



by mankind generally was acclaimed with joy- 
ous shouts in this stronghold of the elders. No 
where else in the world would this pastime 
of the "sugar and the fly" been thought of 
and adopted so spontaneously. 

Some years ago Momence had a rather 
nifty base ball club whose work was the pride 
of the town. Many and many a time they 
brought home the bacon after a hard, and 
gruelling struggle. The elders were "for 
them" and risked their piasters on them and 
increased their store thereby many fold. On 
one occasion when the club went to Watseka, 
Illinois, for a game, several of the elders went 
with them. They took the members of the 
club to the Iroquois House for dinner. When 
the elders elected to do anything, they did it 
right. The day was exceedingly hot and the 
elders, with their coats off, led the way to the 
dining room. Greatly to their surprise they 
were confronted by the head waiter, who in- 
formed them that they could not be permitted 
to sit down at the tables unless they put on 
their coats. The boys put theirs on but the 
elders were obdurate — they'd be eternally 
damned if they would. The situation was em- 
barrassing. The waiter was obliging and of- 
fered to rustle a linen duster or two, as a 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 231 

means of getting around the difficulty. But, 
already the spirit of American independence 
had boiled over and the fat was in the fire. 

"Come on, boys," said one, "we'll go over 
to Uncle Bill William's tavern, by gad." 

And at that, the contingent, twelve to fif- 
teen strong, headed out of the Iroquois House 
onto the T. P. & W. track and hoofed it two 
full blocks away to the Williams House. The 
old Williams House had a reputation second to 
none in its day, and Uncle Bill, as a Boniface, 
was never surpassed for genuine quality in 
old days or new. He was a pioneer of pion- 
eers who ranged his own dining room in shirt 
sleeves and with his trousers stuffed into the 
tops of his cowhide boots. The only conces- 
sion he ever made to fastidious public senti- 
ment was when, on passing through the room 
where his guests were seated at their meal, he 
seized the top of his hati with a firm grip and 
slid it over to an angle of about thirty-two de- 
grees, as if to say "this much I do and no 
more !" Here our friends were genuinely wel- 
comed and were permitted to appear in hot 
weather negligee, and no questions asked. And 
as the elders dallied with their meal, between 
bites they chuckled raucously and delightedly 



232 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



at the discomfiture of the head waiter at the 
Iroquois, who was so insistent on clothes at 
a time when clothes were a positive burden. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 233 



CHARLES MAFFETT'S WOODEN STOVE 

Sometime during the sixties there appear- 
ed one day at East avenue and Court Street, 
in the City of Kankakee, where the Legris 
Brothel bank now is, a man with a curious 
creation in the way of a stove with a wooden 
jacket. The stove was thus displayed that the 
public might give it "the up and down" and 
"the once over," and at the same time learn of 
its manifold advantages as set forth by its 
owner and manufacturer, Mr. Charles Maff- 
ett, Esq. The very novelty of the thing en- 
listed public interest in a day when stoves 
lacked, generally, much of the perfection at- 
tained in this day. A day or so later, Charles 
Maffett himself, appeared with the new in- 
vention on the streets of Momence. Mr. A. 
B. Jenkins, now of Morocco, Indiana, as a boy, 
recalls the incident and Maffett's slogan, viz : 
"A pound of hay will feed ten men !" The 
stove was viewed by hundreds of people, some 
few of whom doubtfully acknowledged that 
it had merit, while the greater number look- 
ed upon the maple-wood box, said to be a stove, 
as the product of a brain seized with a mild 
and harmless dementia. 



234 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

The truth is, the originator of this stove, 
an old man and a floater whom Maffett had 
taken pity on and given asylum in his own 
home, instead of being demented was, in re- 
ality, so far in advance of his time that he 
had the idea of the "fireless cooker" all but 
perfected. This product of the old inventor's 
brain was, after all, merely a wooden box 
supplied with an inner compartment or doub- 
le lining of tin of sufficient capacity to hold 
a gallon or so of water. This water was pre- 
viously heated and poured into the compart- 
ment and, in order that the water might be 
kept hot, there was provided at one side, a 
small fire-box where a fire of chips could be 
kept going. We are told that this device, pop- 
ularly dubbed "the wooden stove," cooked 
many articles popular in the culinary economy 
of that day and did it beautifully. Appar- 
ently there was no question as to the excel- 
lence of the products turned out by the wood- 
en stove, but, for all that, the purchasing pub- 
lic of Kankakee and Momence was wary and 
cautious to a degree that rendered its sales al- 
most nil. 

A few, however, more courageous than 
the rest, bought stoves and used them success- 
fully. We wish it were possible to give the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 235 

reader some sort of description of this early- 
day innovation in stoves. Unfortunately 
there is no cut or picture of it extant. Mr. 
Charles Sherman and the late John Plum- 
mer, both old-time residents of Kankakee, re- 
call perfectly the advent of Maffett's wooden 
stove, each witnessed public demonstrations 
of it, but neither could recall its structure 
other than that it was a box-like affair sup- 
plied with a water compartment of tin. The 
thermos bottle and the fireless cooker are in- 
dispensable adjuncts of almost every home in 
this day of the twentieth century. The late 
Elbert Hubbard, speaking of the scientific de- 
velopments of the century which have con- 
tributed most to the comfort and pleasure of 
living, reckons the development of the ther- 
mos principle as among the greatest. 

How strange that an old man, homeless, 
friendless, wandering up and down the world 
without a dollar, should have touched, in his 
peripatetic exile, upon an idea so pregnant 
with possibilities! Strange, indeed, that his 
idea of half a century ago, should have ap- 
proximated in its important details, the fire- 
less cooker of today. Strange, too, was the 
insistent idea of the inventor, when seeking 



236 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

for a name for this new creation, to call it a 
stove. The public of that day could not recon- 
cile the idea of a stove that was worth while, 
with a mere box of wood lined with tin. Stoves, 
as the public regarded them, were constructed 
of iron and never of wood. This stove of Maf- 
fett's therefore, lacked in the elements of 
successful construction. Ideas are stubborn 
things and hard to combat. Though the pro- 
ducts of the wooden stove were excellent be- 
yond any question, still, the public had its 
doubts ; at all events it was unconvinced, and 
such as were 

" convinced against their will, 

were of the same opinion still!" 

Messrs. Mateer & Scovill who, at that 
time, operated the Kankakee planing mill, 
were deeply interested in this novel invention, 
and, after having made numerous experiments 
with it, entered into negotations with Maffett 
for the right to manufacture and sell the stove. 
It is said that they secured the rights to sell 
the same in the state of California. This stove 
was supplied with a high-sounding, flamboy- 
ant title which, unfortunately, did not long 
survive and is therefore lost to us in this day. 
The venture of Messrs. Mateer & Scovill, sad 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 237 

to say, did not prove a success, largely for the 
reason that Californians were just as skepti- 
cal, bone-headed and perverse as the "Suck- 
ers" of Illinois. Apparently, all this invention 
needed to put it over, was an up-to-date dem- 
onstrator and advertising man of the twen- 
tieth century type. 



238 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

KANKAKEE COUNTY'S FIRST SCHOOL 
TEACHER 

Kankakee county's first school teacher 
was an energetic, vivacious little Miss of tend- 
er years, comparatively, who accompanied the 
families of A. S. Vail and Orson Beebe to the 
banks of the Kankakee in the year 1836. She 
was Miss Lorain Beebe, sister of Orson Bee- 
be and Mrs. A. S. Vail. While the others set 
themselves to the task of building a home in 
the virgin wilderness, Miss Beebe helped her 
sister keep house and devoted part of her time 
to teaching school. This first school was held 
in a room of Asher Sargeant's cabin, the first 
human habitation built on the site of Mo- 
mence, and was opened in the winter of 1837. 
This first school teacher in the first school in 
Kankakee county, had two pupils. They were 
the children of Asher Sargeant, who thus 
shares honors with Miss Beebe in the matter 
of inaugurating education in the wilderness 
in that he furnished the school house and the 
pupils. This first attempt at school teaching 
was subject to interruptions on account of 
the weather. She taught only three hours a 
day and only on such days when she was 
enabled to cross the Kankakee on the ice. The 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 239 

school curriculum of that day embraced only 
the "three ITs," and they were enough. The 
pioneer mothers of that day saw to it that 
their daughters were brought up to a course of 
domestic science, right in the home, under 
their own eye and tutorship. 

The following year, in 1838, Miss Beebe 
went to "Upper Crossing," one mile above the 
present city of Momence, and there taught 
school in a room of the William Lacy log cab- 
in, built there in 1833, the first habitation on 
the Kankakee in eastern Illinois. Here were 
located the Grahams, the Nichols, the Hills, 
the Dutchers and others with families of 
small children sufficiently numerous to make 
a school of creditable proportions. Miss Beebe 
lived on the south side of the river and the 
school house was situated on the north side. 
She daily ferried herself across the river and 
back and at the same time took the small 
children of the south side with her, over and 
back again at the close of school. At this 
time, seventy-eight years ago, there still re- 
mained a village or two of the Pottawattomi 
in the near neighborhood of "The Crossing." 
They mingled on terms of friendly intimacy 
with the settlers, these children of the forest, 
who, though, possessed of a keen, childish cur- 



240 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

iosity, were silent and uncommunicative. Of- 
ten the orderly decorum of the school room 
was disturbed for a half -hour at a time when a 
prowling Indian would take it into his head 
to make them a visit unannounced. Sometimes 
he would take up his station outside the door. 
More often he would appear at one of the 
windows and peer stolidly into the room, his 
features set and immobile, unflinching and 
apparently unconcerned although the eyes of 
teacher and pupils were focused upon him. It 
was useless to speak, for our primitive friends 
who thus thought well enough of civilization 
to call now and then, were deaf to all question- 
ing and dumb to a hopeless degree when it 
came to giving expression to their thoughts. 
Miss Beebe's righteous indignation was 
early aroused at the manner with which the 
white man plied the savage appetite with liq- 
uor. There was the case of "White Pigeon," 
a local Pottawattomie chief who was a royal 
good fellow when sober, but a raging demon 
when loaded with liquor, despite the pacific 
quality suggested by the title "White Pigeon." 
She one day sought Joe Barbee, a half-breed, 
who often served the little pioneer commun- 
ity of Momence and along the river as media- 
tor and minister extraordinary at such times 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 241 

when the Pottawattomi, encamped along the 
river, imbibed too freely of liquor. He was 
quite a diplomat and his persuasive arts were 
often employed, and with good effect, in quiet- 
ing an Indian surcharged with vile liquor. 
Miss Beebe remembered that often when 
"White Pigeon" went on a "High Lonesome," 
Joe Barbee, of Indian Garden, was sent for 
post-haste to stay with him until he sobered 
up. She met up with Joe one day and charged 
him with this unusual message: "Joe, I want 
you to tell White Pigeon for me, the very next 
time you see him, that he is not to drink any 
more liquor ! Now, don't you fail me ! Be sure 
and tell him." 

Several days later, when she chanced to 
meet Joe Barbee again, she asked if he had 
delivered her message. 

"Yes," he answered. 

"Well, what did he say," she asked, rather 
impatiently. 

"Well, when I told him he said: 'White 
man make um, Indian drink um ! White man 
no make um, Indian no drink um !" 

Miss Beebe, school teacher though she 
was, pondered long and thoughtfully over this 
message which was the essence of courtesy, 
directness and brevity. But the more she 



242 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

pondered it the more clearly she realized that 
White Pigeon, by one brief stroke, had closed 
the "booze" question as between the two for 
all time. 

In 1839 Lorain Beebe taught school in the 
Beebetown settlement on the Kankakee. In 
the year 1840 she went down on the Iroquois 
river to the . settlement known as "Bunkum," 
in Iroquois county. It was while teaching 
there that she met Dr. David Lynds, whom she 
afterwards married. They made their home 
on a farm on the south side of the Kankakee 
near "Upper Crossing," where the Tiffany 
Brick Works are located today. There were 
other honors that fell to the lot of Lorain 
Beebe Lynds other than that of being the first 
school teacher. When Uncle Sid Vail finally 
landed a postoffice at his tavern at the settle- 
ment a name for the office became a para- 
mount necessity. He named it "Lorain," after 
his niece. Uncle Sid Vail was a whig in pol- 
itics and Dr. Lynds was a democrat. Con- 
gressman "Long John" Wentworth, of 
Chicago, was also a democrat who admired 
Vail personally, but damned his politics. As 
a matter of good political strategy he deposed 
Vail as postmaster and gave the job to Dr. 
Lynds. Lynds moved the office to his place 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 243 

near the "Crossing" and naturally retained the 
name of "Lorain" as bestowed by Mr. Vail, 
since the lady had become his wife. Lorain 
Beebe Lynds was not only the first school 
teacher, but the first postmistress on the Kan- 
kakee in eastern Kankakee county, at that 
time known as Will. The first official cog- 
nomen Momence ever enjoyed was that of 
"Lorain." With the passing of the postoffice, 
so passed the name to another field, to super- 
cede for all time the varied titles by which the 
upper ford had been known for a generation — 
"Upper Crossing," "Hill's Ford" and "West- 
port." The place has vanished but the name 
remains — the name of "Lorain." 

From the days of Lorain Beebe's first ef- 
forts at teaching school on up to 1850, efforts 
had been put forth by the settlers to effect 
some kind of an organization. In the late 
forties John Strunk, the miller, and William 
Chatfield were serving as school directors. 
The early part of the day summer school in 
1850 was taught by a Miss Marks, who after- 
wards became the wife of Dr. Lane. She had 
some trouble with the pupils before the expi- 
ration of the term, and the directors hired 
Miss C. A. Curtis, sister of Elon and Leroy 
Curtis, to close the term. Jas. Bennett, who 



244 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

had come to the country that year, was en- 
gaged to teach the winter term. There was a 
squabble over the propriety of scripture read- 
ing in the school which came near preventing 
his appearance as teacher in this school. So, 
you see, this question was a serious one as far 
back as seventy-five years ago. The school 
room was about 16x20, seats were made of 
puncheon slabs, flat side up, with holes bored 
in the corners for the wooden legs, and one 
desk was made of boards wherein were stored 
the written copies, etc. The pens used in the 
school were made of goose quills by the mas- 
ter. Among the pupils in attendance at this 
school were: B. F. Gray, Helen, William and 
Mary Strunk, James, Martha and Jane Chat- 
field, Lewis, Fred and Amelia Clark, Harden 
and Martha Vail, and many others from the 
families of the VanKirks, Grahams, Edwards, 
Fenders, Chamberlains, Motts, etc. This 
school in 1850-1 is said to have had about fifty 
pupils. 

Lorain Beebe Lynds, the pioneer blazer of 
educational trails in Kankakee county, lived 
to see the primitive log cabin of one room give 
way to a stately edifice of stone and brick, 
the city high school, where hundreds of the 
city's youth are daily taught by an efficient 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 245 

corps of instructors. She lived to see the 
development of a land and a people whose 
chief bulwark is education, on which hun- 
dreds of thousands of dollars are spent. When, 
later on, the city of Momence built another 
school building, this time on the south side of 
the river and near the old home of Mrs. 
Lynds, it was given the name of "The Lorain 
School," in honor of a well-loved citizen thus 
distinguished as Kankakee county's first 
school teacher. She lived to be ninety-three 
years old, retaining her brightness of mind 
and keenness of intellect — a frail human link 
which a breath might dissolve — that for so 
long bound the yesterday of the "border" with 
the luxurious era of today. 



246 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 




PIERRE BRASSARD 

This Ancient Tin-Type is the Only Like- 
ness Now Remaining of a well known Hunt- 
er, Trapper and All-Around Frontiersman 
of Momence. Pierre Brassard Was a 
Canadian, One of the Finest Shots in the 
Whole Lake Region. He Was Born to the 
"Buckskin" of the Frontier and the Life 
of the Out of Doors. He knew the Kanka- 
kee and the Great Marsh Region, and was 
Often Employed as a Guide. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



247 



TWO PIONEER CRONIES 

Pierre Brassard, several of whose sons 
are prominently identified with the business 




FRANK LONGPRE 
He was Brassard's Hunting Part- 
ner Whose Specialty was Imitating 
the "Honk" of a Goose. Old-Timers 
say of Frank Longpre That he Could 
Make a Goose Get Down Among the 
Rushes and Hunt for Him. 

interests of Momence today, and Frank Long- 
pre were hunting partners years and years 
ago when the great marsh country east of 
Momence was in its prime. Pierre Brassard 
died many years ago, but Frank Longpre sur- 
vived and passed on only recently at the ripe 



248 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

age of ninety. To begin with, there was a 
racial bond which held them firmly for both 
were Canadians, and both had the Canadians' 
inborn instinct for the out of doors, the open 
trails and the flyways of the feathered hosts 
of the upper air. Both were at home either 
in the "blind" or beside the wilderness camp- 
fire. Each had confidence in the other born 
of many a campaign together on the upper 
reaches of the Kankakee or in the Beaver Lake 
country of eastern Indiana. 

In time they became indispensable to one 
another. No one ever surpassed Pierre Bras- 
sard with the shot-gun. He was an artist — 
a master in the art of shooting. No one ever 
equalled Frank Longpre in the art of calling 
geese in the days before the mechanical 
"squawker" was devised. In this he was a 
past-master. Frank Longpre's voice, like John 
McCormick's, was his fortune and, in some re- 
spects, showed more cultivation than did that 
of McCormick. To Pierre Brassard, out on 
the flyway, it "was the sweetest story ever 
told," when Frank Longpre was "going good." 
Working thus together, they made unusual 
bags of game. 

The story is still told of them that one 
day while returning from the region of Beaver 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 249 

Lake with a load of game they had killed, they 
noticed, as they drew near the river, numbers 
of ducks and geese circling over an open- 
water space which appeared in the river's 
frozen surface. The air was black with geese 
and, although they had a load, their hunter's 
blood thrilled at the prospect. They stationed 
themselves by the river and Frank Longpre 
began to "honk." Swiftly the game began to 
circle to the lure, and as fast as they came 
within range, Pierre Brassard dropped them. 
It was little better than slaughter, but such 
an opportunity was not to be passed by. An 
hour passed at this point and they had gath- 
ered in so many geese that they were non- 
plussed as to what disposition to make of 
them, for their light wagon was so loaded that 
not another carcass could be made to stick on. 
Pierre Brassard finally hit upon a scheme. 

"Francois," said he to Mr. Longpre, "wat 
you say — we hang 'em up on de limb of de 
tree, and den we come back tomorrow and get 
dem, hey?" So the geese were hung up in the 
trees along the river bank according to 
Pierre's suggestion, hung by their legs high 
up where the prowlers of the forest could not 
get at them. And when they had finished the 
job, they beheld with satisfaction in this out 



250 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

door cold storage the forms of one hundred 
and thirty-five black Canadian geese ! As they 
resumed their journey towards Momence, 
presently Pierre Brassard began to chuckle. 
"Hey, Francois ! By Jack ! I tell you wot we 
do wit de boys on de ville; we will mak de 
grand bet dat we get de mos' geese tomorrow 
— we bet our jack-knives against theirs — an 
all we have to do is jes' pick de geese off de 
roos' on de limb!" And he dug his compan- 
ion in the ribs with his elbow and the two 
laughed long and heartily, these two old boys 
of the wilderness, who thus conspired quietly 
and "put up a job" on the rest of the hunting 
fraternity. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 251 

AROMA TOWN'S "BEST MAN" 

Gus Wiley, who built the first white man's 
habitation in the timber on the Kankakee at 
Aroma, and who, some years later, in com- 
pany with Alvin Wilbur, laid out the townsite 
of Aroma in 1852, was a character. His peo- 
ple, when he was born, unthinkingly imposed 
a burden on the name of Wiley by naming 
him Augustus M. The fates decreed, how- 
ever, that in the pioneer community in which 
he lived, he was to be known as "Gus," and 
also as "Aroma's Best Man." The "Best Man" 
of the pioneer days was he who was rated as 
being able to lick his weight in wild-cats, and 
successfully uphold the dignity and reputation 
of the community against attack from inter- 
lopers from the outside. Wiley was not only 
a good shot with the old flint-lock rifle, but 
he was a terror with his fists. He was a con- 
sistent and satisfactory performer in the mat- 
ter of a rough and tumble, such as was the 
vogue in the days of the border. We digress 
from the lines of the story long enough to say 
that the Pacifist is distinctly a twentieth cen- 
tury product. He is the product of our latter- 
day prosperity — the more or less pampered 
child of fortune — reared in luxurious ease. 



252 



TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 




MR. MARTIN VANDERKARR 

Mr. VanDerKarr is a Pioneer of 
Aroma Township, Hale and Hearty and 
Active at Ninety. He Left "The Loop" 
in Chicago in the Early Forties to go 
Somewhere and Grow Vegetables and be 
out of the Water. For Years he Raised 
Cucumbers for the Seed at the Instance 
of Vaughn, the "Seed Man," of Chicago. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 253 

The red blood of pioneer days has been so 
watered, so diluted and thinned apparently, 
that the iron of the old days has gone out of it 
entirely. Such a deterioration of the race 
made possible the winning slogan of a presi- 
dential candidate not so long ago — "He kept 
us out of war !" 

Wiley was a terror and a bear-cat but not 
of the swashbuckling, insinuating, overbear- 
ing type. He had to be stepped on first but, 
whenever that happened, the response was in- 
stantaneous, magnificent. In the days of the 
old frontier, men stood four-square on their 
rights, their honor and their reputation, more 
especially if "that reputation" credited them 
with being "the best man" in the township. A 
story illustrating the spirit of the age, is told 
of grandfather Isaac Legg, who came from 
Putnam county, Indiana, to Chicago in 1833, 
and who moved from there to Aroma township 
sometime in the late thirties. He was on his 
way to town one day on horseback, while still 
residing in Putnam county, Indiana, when he 
chanced to fall in with a stranger. They rode 
along together and talked of many things, 
when the stranger chanced to let drop the 
statement that he was "the best man" in his 
community. Grandfather Legg lost no time 



254 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

in letting the stranger know that he was the 
"Best Man" in his bailiwick, and then and 
there the two slipped from their horses and 
went at it. Grandfather Legg succeeded in put- 
ting it over on his adversary in this instance, 
after which they remounted their horses and 
proceeded on their way. 

Mr. Martin Van DerKarr relates a story 
of Gus Wiley in his palmy days. On one occa- 
sion, while in Kankakee, Wiley was partaking 
of an oyster stew in a restaurant, when a 
Frenchman, from Bourbonnais, somewhat the 
worse for liquor, walked into the place and in- 
quired, in a loud voice: "Is dat bully from 
'Roma, wat dey call Wiley, on dis place?" 
Wiley was "on dat place," and so informed 
him, at the? same time asking what he wanted 
of him. "Sacre, I show you who is de bes' 
man! I am de bully from Bour-bon-nay, by 
gar!" Wiley explained briefly but quietly 
that} he was, at that moment, trying to get all 
the pleasure and satisfaction possible out of 
his oyster stew ; that he would be through in a 
moment, and if the "Bully from Bour-bon- 
nay" would not intrude his presence but kind- 
ly wait for him on the outside, he would be 
glad to accommodate him. And then he added 
significantly : "A bowl of oysters costs twenty- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 255 

five cents, and I like 'em hot. The pleasure of 
lickin' you won't cost a damn cent!" 

"The Bully from Bour-bon-nay" was not 
to be put off. He became increasingly bois- 
terous and finally insisted that Wiley did not 
dare to come outside. Seizing a favorable op- 
portunity, Wiley rose suddenly from the table 
at which he was sitting, grabbed the bully by 
the scruff of the neck with his left hand, 
while his right sought a death-grip on the seat 
of his trousers. "The Bully from Bour-bon- 
nay" cut a ludicrous figure thus propelled 
from the rear by Wiley's giant frame. 
Straight towards the open door they headed, 
and, as the Frenchman went through, the ve- 
locity of a body falling in space was aug- 
mented, at least on the start, by a terrific kick, 
which landed full and fair. "Now," said 
Wiley, "you set down and be ca'm. If there's 
anybuddy you'd like to bid good-by, you'd bet- 
ter do that, too ; I'll have them oysters licked 
up in jist a minute." Wiley returned to the 
table and resumed the interrupted meal. When 
he had finished, he paid for it, and then leis- 
urely betook himself to the outside. 

In the meantime, the Bully from Bour- 
bon-nay, whether from the effects of a partial 
sobering up or a brief interval spent in serious 



256 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

reflection, was not nearly so anxious to anni- 
hilate the Bully from 'Roma as he had been. 
Rather, he desired him as an ally — a friend. 
He made a proper apology to Wiley for dis- 
turbing him while at his meal in the restau- 
rant, acknowledged that, as a bully, he had no 
business with "the Bully from "Roma," and, as 
evidence that the amende honorable on his 
part was genuine and sincere, invited him to 
go across the street to a "hard liquor palace" 
and seal the friendly covenant with a drink. 

There was a saloon in that day on Court 
Street where the Fina building now is, and 
thither they made their way. Not one but 
many drinks were partaken of during the so- 
journ of the party there, and under the stimu- 
lus of the liquor the Frenchman's drooping 
courage revived and again became formid- 
able. However, there was this difference in 
his attitude towards Wiley ; instead of want- 
ing to fight him, Wiley had become his especial 
protege whose reputation was as sacred a 
thing as his own. He had suddenly switched 
from antagonist to protector. Turning to the 
mixed crowd in the saloon, he screamed at the 
top of his voice: "Hey, you mushrats! Dis ees 
ma fren, Monsieur Wiley; 'es de Bully from 
'Roma! Me? Fm de Bully from Bour-bon- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 257 

nay! Anyone wat lay one 1-e-e-tle finger on 
him — saere battan — 'es get hees eyes scratch 
out, so !" And suiting the action to the word, 
his face was contorted in an awful grimace, 
and the extended arms and hooked fingers 
were truly suggestive of the cruel claws of the 
wild-cat. 

And that was as near as the Bullies of 
'Roma and Bour-bon-nay ever came to a mix- 
up. 

Mr. William Spence, a Kankakee resident 
who knew Wiley well, recalls that on one other 
occasion Wiley was sought by a neighborhood 
bully, "a youth to fortune, and to fame un- 
known," whose only claim to a niche in the 
hall of fame of that day, was by reason of 
the sound thrashing Wiley gave him. From 
Wiley's house, at Aroma, there was a path that 
led through the thick underbrush to a favor- 
ite fishing-hole on the river. Wiley was an en- 
thusiastic fisherman in a day when fishing 
on the Kankakee was worth while, and scarce- 
ly a day passed that he did not traverse this 
wilderness path with his hickory fishing-pole. 
The unknown bully laid in wait for him one 
day on this path and, as he appeared, stepped 
out in front of him and blocked the way. "Are 



258 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

you Gus' Wiley?" asked the stranger. "I am," 
said Wiley; "what can I do for you?" 

"I'm going to give you a licking" said the 
stranger seriously. 

"All right," flashed Wiley, "off with your 
coat!' 

The stranger pulled his coat. "Why don't 
you pull yourn," said the stranger, as Wiley 
threw down his fish-pole and stepped up to 
him with his coat on. "It's too much trouble 
fur nothin' " replied Wiley, "git up yer hands 
and look out f er yourself !" The bout was fast 
and furious, most too fast and decidedly too 
furious for the youthful stranger who did not 
long stand up under the vigorous gruelling of 
this backwoods giant. The fellow was only 
too glad to acknowledge, finally, that his ideas 
as regards to licking Wiley had undergone a 
radical change in the space of five minutes — 
that he might have been in the right place but 
the wrong pew. It wasn't Wiley he was look- 
ing for after all ; it was a fellow who looked a 
good deal like him ! He had done his bit but 
was conscious of a strong desire "to pass the 
torch to other hands" before he had fairly got 
started. And Wiley, after a few sage re- 
marks by which youth might profit, picked 
up his fishing-pole and went his way to the old 
fishing-hole on the river. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 259 



"GOOD OLD ELDER BURR" 

Shakespeare's witty and somewhat caus- 
tic observation, "the good is oft interred with 
the bones/' fails utterly in its application to 
the Rev. S. P. Burr, Momence's first resident 
minister. After seventy years he is still re- 
called among the old settlers in and about 
Momence, and those who are disposed to relate 
tales concerning him invariably preface their 
statements with the significant legend, ut- 
tered with a notable emphasis and unmistak- 
able unction — "He was a good old man, was 
Elder Burr!" That he was a good old man, 
there is no room for reasonable doubt, since 
saint and sinner, with one accord, after all 
these years, join heartily in the happy designa- 
tion at such times when the good old Elder's 
name is mentioned. 

He was the father of Methodism in Mo- 
mence. By this we do not mean that he was 
the first to hold religious services in the little 
river settlement on the Kankakee. There 
were other circuit riders who preceded him by 
many years. Enoch Sargeant, a brother of 
Asher Sargeant, the first settler at Momence, 
who came to the river in 1835, although not a 



260 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

circuit rider, held preaching services now and 
then. Elder Morrison, who lived four miles 
north of the Momence settlement, is a quaint 
early-day character whose mannerisms and 
oddities of speech are still recalled. For many 
years he, with others, traversed the wilder- 
ness and brought to the dwellers therein the 
message of the gospel, besides serving the lim- 
ited population of that day on the occasion of 
a wedding, a christening or a funeral. Elder 
Morrison officiated at the wedding of Daniel 
Beebe and Nancy Mellen, which was held at 
the Mellen home situated near the mouth of 
Exline creek, on December 30, 1841. After the 
ceremony had been duly performed, the Elder, 
as a fitting finale, offered up a long and fer- 
vid prayer, in which, apparently, not one of 
life's serious problems was left untouched. 
To the bride's great confusion and embarrass- 
ment, the good old Elder petitioned the Al- 
mighty to bestow upon this couple a numerous 
progeny, to be directed always in the way of 
righteousness. 

If the congregations of that day were 
blunt, practical, "home-spun" folk, with little 
or no education, so, too, were the preachers of 
the circuit who exhorted them in the language 
of the old frontier. If, at times, he spoke in 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 261 

rude and homely phrase, if, sometimes, his 
statements were pointed with the grim, un- 
couth humor of the pioneer, it was because he 
was of them and knew them and understood 
them. Elder Morrison used to say to his con- 
gregation: "Brethren, thar will be preachin' 
here four weeks from this day — wind and 
weather permittin' ah, and if the green-heads 
ain't too bad!" It is hard for twentieth cen- 
tury folk to see anything but humor in this 
statement. It is harder still to realize that 
"the wind, the weather and the green-heads," 
were elemental difficulties to be seriously 
considered at all times by the lowly circuit 
rider. 

Rev. Elisha Springer rode one of the ear- 
liest Methodist circuits, established in 1833, 
extending from Spring Creek, Iroquois coun- 
ty, to Rensselaer, Indiana, and from the Wa- 
bash to the Kankakee. He made this circuit 
in 1842 and preached in some of the outlying 
districts to the east of Momence. It is recalled 
that, at times, when he was announcing fu- 
ture services, he would say: "I will hold ser- 
vices here two weeks from today," and then, 
eyeing the male members of the congregation 
shrewdly, added the following unusual quali- 
fication, "that is, if it ain't a good coon day !" 



262 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

He knew that if it did happen to be a "good 
coon day," the male members of the congrega- 
tion, unable to resist the lure of the coon in 
the woods, would not be present at the ser- 
vice, however urgent the call of the gospel 
might be. 

The first of the early-day circuits on the 
Kankakee was that which embraced a circle 
extending from Joliet to Wilmington, up the 
river to Momence, thence to Beebe's Grove, 
Thorn Grove, Crete, Frankfort, etc., over one 
hundred miles in extent. When in the fall of 
1849, the Rev. S. P. Burr was appointed to this 
circuit, it had been much shortened, so much so 
that Elder Burr, as he was known by the set- 
tlers, found Momence a convenient center 
from which to make his ministrations. This 
circuit on which he served was later called the 
"Beebe Grove Circuit." 

As a rule the pioneer settlers were a peo- 
ple of deep and genuine religious convictions. 
This, however, does not seem to have been the 
case with the people who constituted the slen- 
der population of Momence of that day. The 
town bore the reputation of being a wide-open, 
go-as-you-please, free-for-all sort of town and 
lived up to its reputation. In that day, from 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 263 

1847 to about 1856, it experienced its greatest 
prosperity. It then had some five or six stores 
and something like two hundred inhabitants, 
to say nothing of the country tributary. The 
inhabitants of Momence and those who fre- 
quented the place were, in the main, typical 
frontier types. Musk-rat and coon-skin caps 
and buckskin vests and coats were the rule 
rather than the exception. If these people 
were "hard-nosed," (to use the popular ver- 
nacular of today), in their attitude towards 
matters religious, it is not to be taken that 
they were openly hostile to the circuit rider 
and his ministrations. They were merely in- 
different — decidedly and markedly so — that's 
all. 

Elder Burr was a shrewd, kindly, friend- 
ly, practical sort of man who, in addition to 
these desirable personal qualities, was dis- 
tinctively a man of parts, as the little com- 
munity soon came to know. He brought to the 
little river settlement of Momence the very 
first buggy that ever came to town. That 
buggy was a most important asset in one re- 
spect at least. It broke down the barrier of 
cold reserve and indifference on the part of 
the citizens of Momence as nothing else could. 
A community might be unmindful of a lowly 



264 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

circuit rider and preacher, and go their way 
and show little concern in his affairs, so long 
as he let them alone and did not obtrude too 
strongly upon the established order of living. 
But the buggy, of which the Elder made use 
in making his rounds, proved a decided spur 
to public interest. In the stores, in the saloons, 
on the street, wherever men gathered and 
talked, the buggy, an innovation of surpassing 
importance to the backwoods settlement of 
that day, was discussed in all its phases. 

Quite unconsciously these people of the 
old frontier town developed, in time, a sub- 
stantial respect for this grim old warrior of 
the cross who possessed not only a buggy, but 
a fine set of carpenter tools, in the use of 
which he was very expert. A parsonage was 
built for the Elder in the fall of 1849. It stood 
on Locust street just opposite where the ruins 
of the old brick school house stood for so long. 
The site later served W. M. Durham as a gar- 
den. This parsonage building was 16x24. 
Chauncey and Albert Chipman, assisted by 
Rev. Burr himself, were the carpenters who 
jointly erected this modest domicile. This 
first parsonage was used up until about the 
time of the building of the old stone church. 
At that time W. H. Patterson desired the site 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 265 

to add to his grounds, which later became the 
Durham home, and arranged with James Mix 
and the church trustees for an exchange for 
the present parsonage lot at the corner of 
Fifth and Range Streets. 

John Bennett tells us that in the year 1850 
a representative of the Presbyterian faith in 
the person of Rev. Birze, came to Momence. 
At that time preaching services were held in 
the school house, and Elder Burr and Rev. 
Birze preached on alternate Sabbaths. It hap- 
pened that on one occasion there was a misun- 
derstanding between the two as to which had 
the day, both claiming it. Early on that Sun- 
day morning Elder Burr, in order to head off 
his friend Birze, repaired to the school house, 
built the fire, swept out and put everything to 
rights, and then went home to dress for 
church. When he returned with his wife 
three-quarters of an hour later, much to his 
surprise he found friend Birze in full charge. 
Elder Burr was not slow to grasp the point, 
and sat down and, for once in his life, listened 
to a good, old-fashioned Presbyterian sermon. 

Elder Burr was returned to this charge 
by the conference in the year 1851 and thus 
served the community for two years. An an- 
noying throat trouble, with which he was af- 



266 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

flicted, caused him to resign as a regular pas- 
tor after 1851, but, for a number of years 
thereafter, he continued to make Momence his 
home, preaching occasionally and working at 
his trade of cabinet maker. For years he had 
his shop in, the Berg building on River street, 
near the alley. This building is still standing. 
Elder Burr, in the eyes of the little river set- 
tlement, was not only a good man, a good 
preacher, as preachers went in that day, but a 
good cabinet maker. He was a most" helpful 
and handy man to have around in a day before 
the commercial era had superceded the rude 
arts of pioneer handicraft. Some idea of what 
this plain, kindly, simple old man meant to 
the settlement of that day may be gained from 
the varied services he rendered. He married 
people ; then he made the furniture with which 
they began housekeeping; when a child was 
born, he christened it, if the parents so de- 
sired ; when a death occurred, he administered 
spiritual comfort and preached the funeral 
sermon, besides supplying, by his own handi- 
work, the queer, angular, six-sided coffin of 
black walnut in which they were laid away. 
Truly his was a service many-sided and indis- 
pensable. Here and there about Momence may 
be found in this day examples of the plain, 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 267 

sturdy household furniture that had its origin 
in the unpretentious shop of the old circuit 
rider long ago. Time has invested these pieces 
with memories and given them a value quite 
out of proportion to the humble materials em- 
ployed. 

Though the Elder was patient and un- 
wearying in the cause of Christianity, aside 
from a very few families in town and the near 
countryside, the cause of the gospel did not 
visibly prosper. Men went their way, but that 
way led invariably to the saloon and the gamb- 
ling hells and never to the house of God, ex- 
cept in the case of a funeral. There was one 
"saving grace" the community had — they 
would attend a funeral. And, at such times, 
the Elder, quick to take advantage of an op- 
portunity to snatch a brand from the burning, 
would exhort his hearers to flee from the 
wrath to come and take refuge in God's jus- 
tice. 

A notable instance is recalled of a funeral 
at which the old Elder presided. It was that 
of the two-year old son of James Nichols, a 
pioneer and a member of the well known fam- 
ily of "Uncle Billy" Nichols, who lived three 
miles northwest of the settlement. The time 
was about 1855 or 1856. The Nichols were well 



268 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

known and popular among all classes and num- 
bered among their friends almost the entire 
population of Momence, as well as the settlers 
of the countryside. The tragic death of James 
Nichol's little son, John, moved the commun- 
ity to an unusual demonstration of sympathy, 
evidenced by a remarkable attendance at the 
funeral. 

The little fellow one day in the early sum- 
mer, was romping through the open doors of 
the house and out in the yard around the end 
of the house and back through the open doors 
in a circuit when, suddenly, from out of doors, 
the mother heard a piercing scream. Hurry- 
ing out she found the child, and the nearby 
ugly form of a prairie rattle-snake indicated 
only too plainly to the mother what had hap- 
pened. On one of the child's ankles appeared 
two bright red spots where the deadly fangs 
of the reptile had struck. Such remedies as 
the pioneer made use of to combat the deadly 
poison of the rattler were employed, but with- 
out avail. The little fellow died within three 
days. A sorrowful errand for the father was 
when he sought out Elder Burr, and from his 
pocket drew forth a string of a certain length 
whereon appeared a knot a certain distance 
from one end, indicating roughly the dimen- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 269 

sions of a coffin for the toddler, which the 
Elder then and there proceeded to make. 

The funeral was attended by all classes 
of Momence's mixed population and the Elder 
therein recognized an opportunity to bring 
the message of the gospel to a people whom he 
never met except on the street or on the rare 
occasion of a funeral. His effort on this occa- 
sion was a notable example of vigorous exhor- 
tation. For the space of an hour he urged that 
congregation "to leave off sin and take on 
righteousness." No sermon of camp-meeting 
or revival days ever surpassed in earnest in- 
tensity this effort of Elder Burr. As one ex- 
pressed it : "He did everlastingly lambast them 
on their shortcomings." That audience for 
days afterwards, felt the moral effect of this 
appeal of the old parson to their better in- 
stincts. His picturization of the evil one, out- 
lined against the fires that glow unceasingly 
in the abyssmal depths of the brimstone pit, 
was a fearful, awesome thing, the mere recol- 
lection of which loomed like the shadow of a 
spectre standing back of the chair at a feast. 
Some days later a Momence gambler, a rather 
likable fellow, on meeting the Elder on the 
street, asked him point blank why he went 
after that congregation so hard. The Elder 



270 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

eyed him shrewdly for a moment and replied : 
"Whenever the devil lets go your coat-tails for 
a space, that is my opportunity ; many of you I 
never see except at a funeral service! The 
message of salvation is a vital one whatever 
the occasion may be !" And the parson smiled 
a kindly smile so that he to whom his words 
had been addressed smiled also and remarked : 
"Elder, you're a trump ! In this gospel game 
you win! You hold aces, kings and queens 
against ten-spots and deuces !" 

From this it will be seen that in the years 
that followed, there was an increasing respect 
for the sincere old parson among all classes in 
the little river settlement of whom, as a matter 
of truthful acknowledgement, it must be ad- 
mitted that they were a wild and harum scar- 
um lot. But the leaven of friendliness and 
kindliness is irresistible and, like "the blood," 
on which the southerner sets such store, "is 
bound to tell in time!" A marked deference 
was shown Elder Burr and men of all types 
touched the brim of their hat in token of re- 
spectful salutation. The riverman, the round- 
er, the hunter and trapper, who spent much of 
his time in the wilderness, coming to town now 
and then that he might fraternize with his 
fellows, load up with needed supplies and liqu- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 271 

or, never passed the parson on the street that 
he did not remove his pipe with one hand, 
while with the other he tilted the queer musk- 
rat cap he wore. 

The old Elder, amid surroundings forbid- 
ding and all but hopeless, nevertheless sowed 
the seed of friendliness and kindliness with a 
liberal hand, as if hopeful and confident of the 
future. Truly, his was a faith fixed firmly 
and unshakably on the word of God, which 
says: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall 
he also reap !" And that his faith and his lab- 
ors were not in vain, behold, after seventy 
years, wherever recollection goes back to those 
primitive days, there is this unvarying testi- 
mony to his memory— 

"He was a good old man, was Elder Burr." 



272 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

"THE OLD HILL TAVERN" 

Next to William Lacy and Mr. James Van- 
Kirk, who settled at the "Upper Crossing" in 
the fall of 1833, came Robert Hill in the year 
1834. He took up a claim on the south side 
of the Kankakee and immediately constructed 
a cabin of logs nearby the Chicago-Vincennes 
trail and opened a tavern. This tavern was 
destined to become famous for Robert Hill 
was of the broad, genial, expansive Southern 
type, a bon-vivant whose stories and cheer 
and hospitality soon became the "talk of the 
trail." These qualities, indispensable to a suc- 
cessful tavern keeper, were further aided, 
sustained and abetted by "Ma" Hill, than 
whom, no better cook ever basted a turkey or 
dipped her hands in flour anywhere on the 
trail between Vincennes and Chicago. 

In that early day of the border there 
were taverns that had achieved something of 
a reputation with the traveling public of that 
day, notably the "Buckhorn Tavern," situated 
south of the Kankakee in the forks of the trail 
in the near outskirts of the present town of 
Donovan, Iroquois county. A former towns- 
man, the late Major R. J. Hanna, years ago 
gave us an idea of the menu of this old-time 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 273 

hostelry in 1857. He was a member of the 
surveying party that laid out the line of the 
T. P. & W. Railway. They were in the imme- 
diate neighborhood of where the town of Shel- 
don stands today, and there was but one lone 
shack visible in all the country roundabout. 
The man of the shack was too poor to have a 
floor in it. He was so poor that he could pro- 
vide nothing more than potatoes with the 
jackets on and a dish of sow-belly, at which the 
stomachs of the men revolted. They paid for 
the dinner they did not touch and then, to 
quote Mr. Hanna's words : "We sent our Irish- 
man five miles to the old Bunkum Buckhorn 
Tavern to order supper for five hungry men. 
We arrived there shortly after dark and Oh, 
my countrymen, what a banquet was there 
provided! There was a puncheon floor, a 
puncheon table, and puncheon boards for 
seats, but all clean as wax. In the center of 
the table was a large dish filled with mashed 
potatoes as white as snow, with a tablespoon- 
ful of golden butter in the center; cream, 
snowy biscuits, and a roast joint of beef that 
would have done honor to King Arthur's 
Round Table. We sat down to this feast with 
stomachs twelve hours distant from break- 
fast/' 



274 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Robert Hill within the short space of a 
year or so, found his log hostelry altogether 
inadequate to the demands of the wilderness 
public. Such was his fame, so completely did 
he dominate the spot that the hosts of freight- 
ers frequenting the "Chicago-Vincennes 
Road" called this crossing of the Kankakee 
"Hill's Crossing." There was everything to 
indicate that here, where the travel con- 
verged, was a most likely spot for a town and 
Hill, imbued with this idea, proceeded to build 
a two-story frame structure that would have 
been a credit to any town of that day. The 
building of this house took place about 1840. 
The framework was hand-hewn, the sheathing 
and smaller timbers being furnished by the 
saw-mill at Momence, a mile away. The finish- 
ing lumber was hauled from Chicago. With 
the building of the new structure, the reputa- 
tion of "Hill's Tavern" grew apace and, for a 
space of ten years or more, enjoyed a remark- 
able run of patronage. Men on the road 
would put themselves to much trouble and in- 
convenience in order that they might put up 
for the night at "HilFs Tavern." There they 
were sure of a congenial company and the 
best of fare. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 275 

What an interesting insight into the life 
of that day might have been gathered from 
the conversation and stories of the pioneers 
themselves as they drew round the hospitable 
hearth in the bar-room of this wayside inn? 
What stories of hardships, adventure and ro- 
mance that filled the lives of the pioneers, 
were bandied about when the Hoosier from 
the Wabash, the Yankee from the east, the 
riverman and the hunter of the woods and 
prairies thus met? The historian of today 
would have found in the varied types that 
patronized the "Hill Tavern" of 1840, abun- 
dant material for a volume, replete with his- 
torical fact and the humor of the frontier. It 
is even hinted that Landlord Hill himself 
could have supplied the substantial elements 
of a volume, single-handed and alone, that is, 
when he was feeling his best. 

There is one story told of Hill which was 
so highly esteemed by the border populace that 
it has, fortunately, outlived the years. This 
tale bears the modest title "How Hill Made 
Change." Hill was a convivial fellow and, in 
his later years, enjoyed the flowing bowl as 
well as the companionship of his old-time 
friends. On one occasion he had for his 
guests, James Dickey, father of the Dickey 



276 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

family, William Nichols, (Uncle Billy, the 
father of most all of the Nichols), and John 
Hayhurst, father of the Hayhursts. It was a 
particularly joyful time, for most all of them 
had come to the country at the same time, in 
1834, '35 and '36, and they were doubtless deep 
in the reminiscences of the old days. Hill was 
pretty well organized — well lighted up — as 
they say of one who shows a proper apprecia- 
tion of the social amenaties, when he was sud- 
denly interrupted by a stranger who de- 
manded attention in a decidedly preemptory 
tone. 

Hill was in no hurry to leave off in the 
middle of a good story and, accordingly, paid 
no attention to the fellow. The stranger, not 
to be put off in this manner, became boister- 
ous and commanded attention of Hill who, 
much to everybody's surprise, gave it to him 
in the shape of a thrashing, then and there. 
Naturally, the stranger was indignant, and 
requested to know where he could find a jus- 
tice-of-the-peace. Hill told him there was no 
use going to all that trouble. He could get 
justice right there. Here was a jury of three 
good men who had witnessed the assault, and 
they could retire and make up a verdict, and 
thus dispense with all red-tape. The man con- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 277 

sented to this novel proposition, and Dickey, 
Nichols and Hayhurst retired and discussed 
the affair. They decided that Hill had struck 
the man four times and, as a penalty, they de- 
clared that he should pay the man a dollar for 
each blow and give him his dinner free of cost. 
The verdict thus rendered by Hill's friends 
was accepted as satisfactory by both sides, and 
Hill ordered the dinner prepared. After the 
man had finished his repast Hill handed him 
a five-dollar bill. Hill had fifty cents coming 
to him. The stranger could not make the 
change and so announced. "All right," said 
Hill, "I make the change," and, forthwith, he 
landed the fifth blow between the eyes that 
landed the stranger well up in the corner of 
the bar-room. The jury helped the fellow to 
his feet and as they did so, they advised him 
that although the difference in change now 
laid in his favor, he had best run along about 
his business and let Hill keep it. 

The register of the Hill Tavern, if they 
had such a thing, and if it were accessible in 
this day, would show the names of individuals 
afterwards famous in the business and politi- 
cal world. Congressman "Long John" Went- 
worth, of Chicago, used to stop here during 
his campaigns. At an Old Settlers' meeting, 



278 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

held in the year 1880, at Old Bunkum, now 
Iroquois, in Iroquois county, "Long John" 
Wentworth was one of the speakers and re- 
lated an interesting personal experience at the 
"Hill Tavern." In the year 1843, he was run- 
ning for Congress, and his district embraced 
about one-fourth of the state, comprising the 
east half from Vermilion county north. On 
one occasion he delivered a speech at some 
town west of Chicago, and the next day but 
one was to deliver a speech at Bunkum. It 
was a long drive and he started the night be- 
fore, after delivering his first speech. A little 
after noon the next day he arrived at "Hill's 
Tavern" and procured his dinner. He then 
explained to Landlord Hill that he had been 
riding all the previous night and asked if he 
could not lay down for a three-hour nap. He 
was shown into a room adjoining the dining- 
room, where he threw himself across the bed 
and sought sleep. Presently he heard the 
voices of two young ladies, whom he supposed 
to be Hill's daughters, in the adjoining room. 

"I believe that is Wentworth, the man 
who is running for Congress," he heard a 
voice say. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 279 

"No, it can't be," said the other, "for 
Wentworth is nearly seven feet tall, and that 
man isn't that big." 

"Well," said the other, "I noticed he was 
awful big, and I'll bet it's him." 

There was considerable discussion as to 
the identity of the sleeper when one of the 
girls suggested that they measure him and 
thus make sure. There was considerable gig- 
gling and bantering back and forth, but fin- 
ally stealthy steps were heard approaching 
the bedroom door. "Long John" stretched 
himself at full length and started to snore in 
a way that fairly jarred the roof. Inch by 
inch the door opened noiselessly and a pair of 
mischevious eyes peeped from behind the edge 
of it. A warning finger was laid on her lips 
as a sign of caution to the other, and then she 
whispered : "He's sound asleep !" They then 
procured a string, tip-toed into the room and 
forthwith measured him from the crown of 
his head to the extreme tip of his big toe. The 
girls were highly elated at their achievement 
and the result of the measurement appeared 
to settle conclusively the fact that it was 
"Long John" Wentworth himself and no one 
else. 



280 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

With the passing of the pioneers who first 
settled in the near environs of "Hill's Tavern," 
on the Kankakee, there passed into oblivion 
also memories of the numerous dances and 
social functions held there from time to time 
from 1835 up to 1850. Another entertaining 
volume might be written of these affairs if 
the past could but speak. "Hill's Tavern" was 
a spot of happy memories for the belles and 
beaux and settlers of the nearby wilderness 
who were wont to gather there. Mr. and Mrs. 
Hill, who made the Tavern famous, were even 
more famous as entertainers. There was a 
wholesome heartiness to the welcome they ex- 
tended to these friends, and the more of noise 
and bustle and confusion, the more topsy- 
turvy things became about the house the bet- 
ter Pa and Ma Hill liked it. There was al- 
ways a good time at Hill's, and that statement 
goes as it lays. 

About the last that is remembered of the 
tavern was a grand ball, given by Hill in the 
spring of 1850, during the days of the Cali- 
fornia gold excitement, in honor of a number 
of residents who were leaving the following 
day under the captaincy of Philip Worcester, 
for the gold fields of the new Eldorado. 
Among them was Hill's son, Sam, a well known 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 281 

character in that day. There was a most not- 
able attendance at this function and the fun 
was fast and furious and lasted until the break 
of day. Several hours later Captain Worcest- 
er and his men on horseback and with wagons 
carrying supplies, set forth bravely on the 
trail that extended more than half-way across 
the continent. They set out on the river trail 
on the west bank of the Kankakee and Luther 
Gleason, a lad of nine years, watched the cav- 
alcade as it passed their home on the river, 
(now the Alice Payne farm), and saw them 
turn into the old trail that branched from the 
river road at the point where the old Rice cem- 
etery is, and lost itself in the unbroken prairie 
to the west. Captain Worcester, stiff and 
military looking on his charger, led the van. 
There was a man carrying the stars and 
stripes, and following were men on horse- 
back and in the wagons. Among those who 
made up the party that left Momence were: 
Albert and Horace Worcester, John Trever- 
baugh, Sam Hill, Jake Nichols, A. C. Beadle, 
John Beebe, Elias VanDeKarr and Henry 
Case. There were others of the party from 
the neighborhood of Momence, but their 
names are not obtainable in this day. 



282 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Through the medium of a diary now in 
the possession of John H. Nichols, kept by his 
uncle, John E. Hill while on the memorable 
overland trip to California, the following par- 
ticulars are obtained. The party left Momence 
on the 11th of March, 1850. Those of the party 
mentioned in the diary are: John E. Hill, S. 
M. Hill, John Yates, Washington Allen, P. 
Thatcher, I. Rutter, William Nichols, T. B. 
Snapp and J. R. Haddon. Each of these men 
rode a horse and led a pack-animal. They went 
to Bourbonnais, Wilmington, Galesburg, and 
then to Memphis, Tennessee, and from there 
to St. Joe, Missouri, where they outfitted, 
leaving there on May 13th, 1850. John E. Hill 
and party left California for home on board 
a ship called "The Olive Branch," but he died 
en route and was buried at sea in January, 
1851. 

At Bourbonnais the ranks of the gold 
seekers were reinforced by a goodly number, 
and upon reaching Wilmington three or four 
more were added, so that there was probably 
a company of thirty or forty men who started 
out under the guidance of Captain Philip 
Worcester. In that day of the fifties, the Hill 
Tavern had lost much of its patronage, for the 
bridge across the Kankakee at that place had 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 283 

been carried out in 1849 and Momence, one 
mile to the west, had forged to the front so 
that the freighters found the place more to 
their liking and stopped there on their trips 
to and from Chicago. One by one the busi- 
ness people of Hill's Crossing dropped down 
the river to Momence and, in the course of 
time, the Hill Tavern was moved, building and 
all. The building was owned for many years 
by John Lundstrum and occupied the site at 
the corner of River and Market streets. The 
building was torn down only a few years ago, 
and thus passed out of existence one of the 
most notable landmarks in eastern Illinois. 



284 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



AN IMPROMPTU DOUBLE WEDDING 

It is, perhaps, too much to expect, that a 
story with a title so tame as the foregoing, will 
cause even a ripple of interest in the public 
mind of today. The keynote of the Twentieth 
Century is "Progress," and nowhere in our 
social and economic structure is the peculiar 
progress of the age better illustrated than in 
the ceaseless grind of our divorce courts, and 
the columns of the daily press wherein are set 
forth in nauseating detail, the conjugal infelic- 
ities of the times in which we live. It would 
seem that "speed" is a more becoming term 
than "progress." Of course, there are and al- 
ways have been, all sorts of curious people in 
the world, accustomed to doing all kinds of 
peculiar stunts and it may be that twentieth 
century folk, who have progressed to a point 
where, from sheer ennui, they knock one an- 
other in the head, or seek a divorce, or simply 
pull up stakes and vamoose as the easiest way 
out of a bad situation, may, after all, get a 
thrill out of this tale of old frontier days. 

In our search for the unusual in the way 
of happenings of frontier days, there was the 
incident of the two fellows who got together 
and traded wives, and the other incident of the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 285 

impromptu double wedding that bobbed up 
continually whenever an old-time resident be- 
came reminiscent and invited one back of the 
veil to glimpse those treasures which the mem- 
ory holds worth while. He would tell you that 
over in east of Momence, in the sand and scrub 
contiguous to the Indiana state-line, there 
lived in the early days two men and their 
wives. One of them proposed one day that 
they trade wives. The other was only mildly 
interested. He thought he deserved some- 
thing to boot on the trade. They were both 
poor as church mice, hence the question of 
"boot" was a poser. The man who had pro- 
posed the trade finally bethought him of a load 
of hickory poles which he had laboriously 
hewn out of the timber, and these he tendered 
with the proviso that the recipient was to 
come and get them. The offer was accepted 
and the exchange made, and these meager 
facts as hereby set forth, are solemnly af- 
firmed by many and many a one of our most 
reliable citizens. With regard to the impromp- 
tu double wedding, many with whom we talked 
had heard of it, yet none were able to recall the 
names of the principals nor any of the inci- 
dents attending this unusual affair of the 
frontier. We came at last to look upon it as a 



286 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

pet tradition of the old-time populace, some- 
thing to regard indulgently and pass by with 
a smile, until one day, Mrs. America Brosseau 
asked if we had ever heard of it, and then pro- 
ceeded to give some of the details. 

To begin with Mrs. Brosseau stoutly avers 
that the story of which we thought so lightly 
is absolutely true. The couples involved were 
residents of Bourbonnais township, as we 
know it today, and, presumably, lived in the 
near vicinity of the Samuel Davis home on 
Davis Creek and the Bourbonnais Road. The 
time was of the late thirties. Mrs. Brosseau 
recalls that the Davis home was a general 
rendezvous for the French-Canadian residents 
of Petite Canada, the prairie settler and the 
neighborhood "squatter." Davis, in addition 
to supplying the more urgent needs of the 
frontier household in the way of sugar, tea 
and coffee, had always on hand a generous 
supply of whiskey which he dispensed in quan- 
ties or by the glass as desired. Hence we may 
know that there was something of conviviality 
added to these nightly gatherings at the Davis 
home, after a drink or two had served to mel- 
low the spirit and unloose the tongue. And if 
the men found pleasure and interest in these 
oft-repeated tales, so, too, the old dames who 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 287 

gathered in the ample ingle-nook of the old- 
fashioned fire-place of the Davis home with 
cob-pipes that steamed blue like the witch- 
ing fumes of an incense-pot, found an appetiz- 
ing flavor in ancient gossip — a new thrill in 
the more than "twice-told tales." As a child, 
Mrs. Brosseau says, she has listened to these 
tales, wide-eyed and serious, holding fast to 
the maternal skirts meanwhile. 

Mrs. Brosseau's memory has fortunately 
preserved to us the names of the men con- 
cerned in this unique affair, Dorion Tetreault 
and Pete Volkenburg, the one a sort of coureur 
de bois, or rover, and the other of much the 
same stripe as Tetreault, was regarded in the 
parlance of the frontier as a "squatter." By 
some strange lapse of memory she cannot re- 
call the names of the women, except that one 
of them was known as Josette and the other 
Mary. It was at a gathering at a neighboring 
cabin where these young people, among others, 
were present, that it was proposed to hold a 
mock wedding. The young men were more 
than willing candidates for the event, and tra- 
dition even winks mysteriously and intimates 
as much for the young women. They paired 
off and solemnly took the marital vows and 
later "jumped the broom-stick," after which 



288 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

he who had conducted this unusual service 
(who claimed to have been a justice-of-the- 
peace at one time in his life), read a chapter 
from the Bible in a voice decidedly shaky, halt- 
ing and uncertain, and then pronounced them 
"man and wife." 

Congratulations were showered upon the 
newly wedded pairs, and all sorts of good 
natured raillery, such as an occasion of this 
kind sanctions among friends, was indulged 
in. Others of the company busied themselves 
setting back the scanty furniture and clearing 
the floor. A backwoods fiddler, with his bat- 
tered violin, appeared conveniently from 
somewhere, and, seated upon an improvised 
throne in a corner of the room, the raucous 
strains of the fiddle, as he tuned the instru- 
ment, warned the company that everything 
was in readiness for a regular, old-fashioned 
"hoe-down" or "shindig." That mark of dis- 
tinguished consideration which the frontier 
residents of that day sought to bestow upon 
the "newly-weds," found expression chiefly in 
this outburst of good will, with its laughter, 
good natured chaffing and music. For hours 
this happy, care-free people of the old fron- 
tier danced to the tune of "the Bumble Bee," 
which was a favorite, varied now and then by 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 289 

a cotillion, the figures of which were called 
by one of their number, a more or less dishev- 
eled figure who, between calls, pulled steadily 
on a big, black pipe, and, by way of variation, 
spat heavily now and then into the nearby 
fire-place. 

There were intervals in the dance of 
which the men took advantage to get "a nip 
of liquor," while the "ladies," to appease ap- 
petites made voracious by the unusual exer- 
cise, partook of "light refreshments," or, in 
the parlance of the frontier, "a snack." This 
"snack" consisted of whatever might be pro- 
cured by scraping the cupboard to the bare 
boards. Therefore, those who helped them- 
selves, seized upon that which appealed most 
to the taste— a doughnut, a piece of maple 
sugar or a biscuit, spread with the dark, rich 
red of the wild plum. One buxom lass with an 
appraising eye, succumbed to the lure of a cold 
corn pone which she spread liberally with 
flakes of ham-fat and bacon "drippings," and 
then devoured with numerous outward signs 
of satisfaction, afterwards wiping the tips of 
her fingers and her lips on the hem of her 
"linsey-woolsey." The "caller" must have got- 
ten an inspiration out of this sight of the 
buxom lass and the corn pone, for, in the cotil- 



290 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

lion that followed, his genius framed the fol- 
lowing, which was a take-off, apparently — 

"Meet your partner — 
Hit 'er on the head, 
If she don't like biscuits 
Give 'er corn bread; 
Keep a hookin' on — 

Upon the breaking up of the dance Mr. 
and Mrs. Tetreault and Mr. and Mrs. Volken- 
burg were overwhelmed anew by their friends, 
who wished them all sorts of good luck in 
their matrimonial venture, although it had, 
on the whole, been somewhat unpremeditated. 
But why let a little thing like that interfere? 
Surely they would some time marry! The 
wedding had been duly solemnized ; the vows 
had been made before witnesses; the event 
had been gloriously celebrated by the neigh- 
bors of the countryside! What more could 
anybody ask? And then as if to clinch the 
arguments already set forth and remove any 
element of doubt that may have lingered in the 
minds of the contracting parties themselves, 
he who had once been a justice-of-the-peace 
announced ponderously, "You-all is jes' (as 
much married as though you had paid me five 
dollars apiece." Such an enlightening and 
convincing statement from the lips of so au- 
gust a personage was, apparently, all-suffi- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 291 

cient. The principals in the affair were all 
more or less willing to accept the situation, 
only — it was so sudden, you know — and the 
"ladies" so flustered for the time being that, 
if they hesitated for the moment, it was not to 
be regarded as a sign of disapproval alto- 
gether. And in this manner, so old-time gos- 
sip affirms, were the ranks of the Benedicts 
augmented in the little settlement that had 
its beginning near unto that of "Petite Can- 
ada." 

There was much of spirited conversation, 
much of jollity and laughter as the crowd set 
forth on the dimly lighted trails that led in a 
round about way through the woods to their 
homes, and where a trail diverged, there, for a 
moment, the party would linger that congratu- 
lations might be renewed and friendly admon- 
itions repeated. An owl high up in the dead 
top of a jack-oak and dimly outlined against 
the waning moon, whose nocturnal reveries 
had thus been rudely shattered, emitted a ter- 
rific "Twhoo ! T'wh-o-o ! and the still watches 
of the night were made fairly clamorous by 
the oft-repeated echo of "Who ! Wh-o-o ! Wh- 
o-o-o !" "Ah," said a voice — it was that of the 
buxom lass of the corn pone — "The man in the 
moon wants to know who we are ! Well, then, 



292 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

if you are so anxious and must know, it is Mr. 
and Mrs. Tetreault and Mr. and Mrs. Volken- 
burg on their wedding trip home !" And the 
outburst that followed this sally of frontier 
wit so upset and discomfited Br'er Owl that 
he spread his wings in ignominious flight. 



Concerning most marriages of an unusual 
nature, such as the foregoing, the chronicler 
thereof is privileged to say "that they lived 
happily ever after," and, in this particular in- 
stance, the reader is justified in accepting the 
statement without question. More than that, 
popular gossip of that early day ascribes to 
these wedded couples a devotion and con- 
stancy above reproach, as well as a fair meas- 
ure of prosperity as prosperity was reckoned 
in the old days of the border. The gossips of 
that day even went so far as to preserve to 
posterity the interesting details of a conversa- 
tion, said to have taken place between the 
heads of the respective houses of Tetreault 
and Volkenburg when, after ten days of wed- 
ded bliss, they had settled back into the old, 
accustomed, shiftless habits of wilderness life. 
They met one day, Dorion and Pete, as they 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 293 

had often met, down on the river by the old 
Yost saw-mill, where the fishing was espec- 
ially good. 

Says Pete : "Say, Dorion, how are you and 
Josette getting along, anyway?" 

"Ah," says Dorion in reply, "Josette and me, 
we git 'long lak two liF kitten — jes' lak two 
tortle dove! She split de wood, she mak de 
fire, she fetch de water, she mak de breakf as' 
an de dinner and de supper; an w'en I light 
de pipe, she say, 'now, Dorion, don' you move. 
I fetch you one coal from de fire !' Ah, Pierre, 
Josette is jes' de one for me! I tell youse, 
Pierre, I wouldn't tak a honered dollar for Jo- 
sette if I couldn't git 'noder jes' so good !" 

And thus lulled by the memory of Josette's 
many virtues, warmed by the sun's genial rays, 
at peacq with himself and all the world, there 
rose to his lips unconsciously, so it seemed, an 
ancient chanson of the voyageur that had 
lingered for generations in the blood — 

"Each returning springtime 
Brings so much that's new, 
All the fickle lovers 
Changing sweethearts too. 
The good wine soothes and gives me rest, 
While love inspires and fills my* breast. 
All the fickle lovers 
Changing sweethearts still, 
I'll keep mine forever, 
Those may change who will!" 



294 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



THE RIVER NAVIGATION PROJECT 

The coming of the Illinois Central rail- 
road to Kankakee in 1853 was most inoppor- 
tune for the success of an ambitious develop- 
ment enterprise launched as far back as 1846, 
when the Illinois legislature passed a special 
act incorporating the Kankakee & Iroquois 
Navigation and Machinery Company. This 
company was organized with a capital stock 
of $100,000, divided into shares of $50 each. 
The purposes of the company, as set forth in a 
pamphlet issued in 1847 were, briefly, "the im- 
provement and navigation of the Kankakee 
and Iroquois rivers, the creation of water pow- 
er on said streams and the building and erect- 
ing of mills and machinery of all kinds on or 
near said streams. The said company shall 
have the power to improve as aforesaid, the 
navigation of said streams, from the point on 
the said Kankakee river which is intersected 
by the Kankakee feeder for the Illinois & 
Michigan Canal, up the said river to the Indi- 
ana State line; and from the mouth of the 
Iroquois, near Waldron, up to the same Indi- 
ana State line." 

These rivers traversed a considerable ter- 
ritory of exceedingly rich country which, upon 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 295 

its settlement and development, was sure to 
furnish a tremendous volume of business 
which would be handled exclusively by the 
new company. The project had much to com- 
mend it as a sound business venture and the 
stock of the company was readily disposed of 
among business men and settlers along the 
streams. The plans of the company further 
provided for eight dams, the first one below 
Wilmington and the last one at Momence. The 
dam at Momence was to cost $2,755 and was to 
have been provided with a six-foot lift cost- 
ing $4,500 more. The only expense counted on 
above Momence was $500 for a "draw" in the 
bridge at "Upper Crossing," or Westport. 
The Company's prospectus of that day further 
states that 30,000 bushels of wheat grown 
south of the river were annually hauled over 
the bridge at "Upper Crossing," or Westport, 
in that early day. Nearly all of the promoters 
of this ambitious project were Wilmington 
men. Dr. Hiram Todd, of Rockville, owner 
of many thousands of acres of valuable river 
lands on the Kankakee and Iroquois, was in- 
terested in the scheme. Wonderful develop- 
ments were predicted in the region of Rock 
Creek, Waldron, Momence, on the Kankakee, 



296 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

and for Sugar Island, Plato and Middleport, 
on the Iroquois. 

During the years of the late forties and 
the early fifties, when the affairs of the Navi- 
gation Company loomed encouragingly, people 
were attracted to Waldron. Its location in 
the heart of this vast agricultural territory 
and at the junction of the rivers made it the 
logical site for a town of real consequence 
commercially. The Wilburs, of Momence, in- 
terested themselves in a milling enterprise 
and also established a store. Seth Wells, 
prominently identified with the growth and 
development of Momence, built a three-story 
hotel of wood on the corner across the street 
north from Hoke's store, in Waldron, in 1851. 
Luther Gleason says that this hotel had the 
best dancing floor to be found anywhere in 
the county. The building was later destroyed 
by fire. The old barn which still stands on the 
back of the lots occupied by Wells' hotel, had 
its timbers hewn and framed and was first 
erected at Momence. Some say that Wells 
took it down and moved it to Waldron and 
re-erected it where it stands today. Others 
think this was done by the Wilburs. Wells 
had a penchant for three-story buildings. Af- 
ter building the, one at Waldron, he later, in 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 297 

1856, built a three-story brick on the present 
site of the Central House in Momence. It is 
said that while the walls were being laid, 
Wells had a quart bottle of whiskey cached 
therein. But the bottle did not remain there 
over night. Some scalawag pulled down the 
freshly laid wall and appropriated the booze 
unmindful of the fact that whiskey was so 
cheap as to make the effort hardly worth 
while. Wells was the moving spirit in the 
erection of the Worcester & Lane hall at 
River and Range streets. He had the founda- 
tions up and the materials all on the ground 
for this three-story building, when he sudden- 
ly made up his mind to go to California. He 
sold to Hannibal Worcester and Dr. J. C. Lane, 
who finished the present building. 

To return to the affairs of the Navigation 
Company — considerable money had been 
spent and the improvements as scheduled had 
actually been extended as far as "Polly's Rif- 
fles," a few miles this side of Wilmington, 
when the bubble burst, due to the building of 
the Illinois Central Railroad. The hour had 
struck wherein was ushered in that great era 
of progress and development which is the most 
amazing thing in our civilization. After all, 
the story of progress is largely the story of 



298 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

"Transportation." The river was the pioneer's 
natural ally in the days of the "Covered Wag- 
on" and the ox-team. It furnished cheap 
transportation besides power to grind his 
wheat and corn and saw the lumber for his 
wilderness abode. Our friends at Momence, 
who had depended upon the Navigation Com- 
pany, while acknowledging the superiority of 
the newly-built railroad, never-the-less con- 
tinued to make use of the river for a consid- 
erable time. After the coming of the railroad 
and the locating of Kankakee City, John Para- 
dis, of Momence, constructed the first steam- 
boat to operate on the Kankakee. This was 
in 1854. This boat could proceed no farther 
than Waldron on account of the dam. 

Mr. S. W. Skelly, who, as a youth, was 
first a resident of Kankakee and later of Wal- 
dron, or Aroma Park, recalls that shortly af- 
ter the building of the railroad, in 1853, power 
boats were placed on the Kankakee for the 
purpose of conveying freight and passengers 
to and from Waldron and Kankakee and also 
between Momence and Kankakee. There 
were two boats. The one operated by John 
Paradis was a steamboat, according to Mr. 
Skelly. The steamboat plied between Mo- 
mence and Waldron but, on account of the 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 299 

dam, could not proceed farther down stream. 
The Momence boat steamed into the mill-race 
at Waldron and there discharged and took on 
its cargo. The boat operated between Wal- 
dron and Kankakee was a flat-bottomed af- 
fair with a large stern-wheel. The power was 
supplied by two horses walking on an in- 
clined endless apron, or tread-mill. This boat 
was owned by E. R. Beardsley, a man promi- 
nently identified with the early activities of 
the village. A man by the name of Fuller fur- 
nished the horses that operated the tread-mill. 
Quantities of merchandise were thus handled 
and interchanged by these primitive boats ply- 
ing between Momence and Waldron and the 
railroad at Kankakee. There were days when 
the mill-race levee at Waldron held large car- 
goes of sacked wheat, barrels of flour, bundles 
of hides, casks of wine and barrels of whiskey 
from the distillery at Momence, awaiting 
transport to the railroad at Kankakee. And 
on the return up-river, these boats were laden 
with merchandise brought by the railroad to 
Kankakee, consigned to points up-river. These 
boats made one round trip a day. In the mean- 
time, the Beardsley boat at Waldron, was used 
as a ferryboat, and was thus reasonably busy 
from sun-up until dark. 



300 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Later in the fifties, Ezra Wetmore, who 
owned and carried on the present Wetmore 
farm on the Kankakee between East Court 
street and Momence, put on the river a forty- 
foot flat-boat which plied between Momence 
and Waldron, more particularly during the 
season when the prairie roads were made im- 
passable for heavy loads by the rains. This 
barge of Wetmore's drew two feet of water, 
and was drawn by a horse attached to a long 
line. Sometimes, when the wind was favor- 
able, a large sail would be hoisted and the 
horse, for the time, was dispensed with. Hugh 
Wetmore says that as a youth, he has made 
many and many a trip to Waldron and back 
astride the horse. This boat carried large car- 
goes of wheat and corn to Waldron and from 
there it was hauled to Kankakee by teams. 
Returning from Waldron, the boat's cargo was 
more often lumber. On one trip down the 
river Mr. Wetmore says the boat became lodg- 
ed on a boulder in the river in the near vicin- 
ity of Saddler's Island. They worked nearly 
all night shifting the cargo to the other end 
of the boat, and finally succeeded in releasing 
it. The rates for this service were decidedly 
modest as compared with the rates of today. 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 301 

J. B. Wicks operated a daily stage line 
from Mbmence to Kankakee in that early day 
and carried the mail for a number of years. 
With the building of the C. D. & V. railroad 
to Momence in 1869, Momence ceased to de- 
pend on Kankakee as formerly. But, in this 
luxurious era of the Twentieth Century, the 
entente cordiale has been resumed, apparently, 
to the great advantage of both cities. These 
places are now united by a magnificent con- 
crete roadway and luxurious coaches that 
rival the comfort and speed of the railways 
are at your service every two hours during the 
day. The temptation is too great! We just 
can't stay away! The "Dixie Highway" has 
robbed Momence's Main Street of its very 
name ! It means more to them than the best 
railway they have! The world now strolls 
through the open doors of Momence and Kan- 
kakee, in highpowered cars that out-rival ex- 
press and limited trains. The world is on 
wheels ! The man from Maine, and Manitoba, 
and New York, and New Orleans, and Los An- 
geles and San Francisco whisk by each other 
and say hello and goodbye, and wave a friend- 
ly salute ! We have seen in this sketch how the 
dawn of the railroad era dissipated the dreams 
of the Navigation Company of the Kankakee 



302 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

and the Iroquois rivers. After seventy years 
the hour has struck when railway men in high 
places are jumpy, and nervous and distracted 
over the problem that confronts them. For 
the world is on wheels, and the freight is most- 
ly on trucks ! One fifth and better, of Illinois 
five or six millions own and operate machines, 
and other sweating millions who haven't them, 
hope to have them soon! And the railways 
hope to solve the problem by raising the rates ! 
This is a generation born to the fabled "silver 
spoon in the mouth," and but a single sou in 
the wallet, in many cases. The world is on 
wheels today — "some in rags, some in tags, 
and some in velvet gowns !" But they all thrill 
at this touch of luxury which "makes the 
whole world kin." 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 



303 




THE CATHEDRAL OF THE PRAIRIE 

The Cottonwood With a Story, Which Stands in the 

Dooryard of the Alice Payne Farm, on the 

Banks of the Kankakee. 



304 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 



THE CATHEDRAL OF THE PRAIRIE 

Let us say at the outset that this is a story, 
a true story, of a cottonwood tree— we were 
going to say, a humble cottonwood — but that 
would be a misnomer. The word humble ill 
becomes the rugged, stately magnificence of 
this particular "tree, said to be the largest in 
the county, which graces the residential door- 
yard of the Alice Payne farm, midway be- 
tween East Court street bridge and the village 
of Aroma Park, on the west bank of the Kan- 
kakee. "The Woods were God's First Tem- 
ples/' but this particular cottonwood, "ma- 
jestic, isolated, grand," is a cathedral among 
temples that dot the countryside in this fair 
valley of the Kankakee. There is no other 
term quite so fitting — that expresses so much 
and so truthfully. 

Cathedrals and temples are not built in a 
day, as we know. It is a long, tedious, labor- 
ious, heart-wearing process wherein the first 
effort shows little, and suggests little of the 
glory to follow. Generations of men worked 
below ground on the foundations of stately 
St. Peter's, of Rome and were followed by still 
other generations who spent their lives and 
faded into the twilight of the ages without 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 305 

glimpsing the transcendent genius of Raphael 
and Michelangelo, to whom, apparently, om- 
nipotence gave the triple powers of architect, 
sculptor, painter. So, in a way, with our "Ca- 
thedral of the Prairie." From the days of its 
nascent life when, as a feathery atom instinct 
with the germ of life, borne by the winds of 
chance, it fell, unnoticed of men, on the prairie 
land of Eber Gleason and was nurtured by 
rain and sun and the rich prairie soil, and 
sprouted and grew, and sent forth a tiny root 
downward, which was the foundation, and a 
tender shoot upward which the passing years 
have erected finally into a superstructure of 
impressive dimensions and perfected sym- 
metry. 

On the incompleted life cycle of this Cot- 
tonwood eighty years are registered and 
vouched for within the memory of the pio- 
neers. An amazing and interesting feature 
of this cottonwood was that it was lucky, even 
as some men are said to be Ivcky. Just around 
the corner lurked a kindly fate r«idy to inter- 
vene when the great hour struck, so that men 
who knew of the incident were moved to say 
that the cottonwood was lucky as to the par- 
ticular situation in which it germinated and 
grew; that it was lucky in the possession of 



306 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

an unusual vitality; above all, that it was 
lucky in having for a friend, when it most 
needed a friend, a merciful man, a kindly man 
— one with the soul and the vision of a poet. 

In 1838, when Eber Gleason took up this 
piece of land on the west bank of the Kanka- 
kee, after having driven all the way overland 
from distant Vermont, he built his log cabin 
in an open space, devoid of tree or shrub, very 
near to the present highway. Here Eber 
Gleason died as early as 1847. He left a widow 
and a family of small children. Luther Glea- 
son, who was born on the place in 1841, says 
that he still marvels at how the mother ever 
reared that family with so very little to go on. 
Truly that providence which was mindful of a 
tree, lent a helping hand to the mother in her 
hour of need. 

The sixty acres comprising the Gleason 
farm of that day, after the death of Eber Glea- 
son were rented to Ralph Parsons, then a 
youth. Twenty acres of the sixty were still 
raw prairie and, on that day when Parsons 
with his black ox team hitched to a breaker 
started in to turn over the sod, there opened 
an epoch filled with startling experiences for 
the trim, slender, two-year old cottonwood 
whose trunk, about the size of one's index 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 307 

finger and which had attained a height of 
three or four feet, waved cheerily above the 
grass and prairie flowers in the far-flung sun- 
shine. As the plowing progressed and furrow 
on furrow of rich, fat, sleek prairie soil ap- 
peared, the doom of the cottonwood became 
more pronounced. Nearer and nearer the 
furrows crept until at last, the cattle as they 
passed, tempted by the rich green leaves, 
mouthed them and tore them viciously, and the 
plow, as it passed, toppled the dainty little 
cottonwood to one side, and Ralph Parsons, as 
he followed in the furrow, moved by an idle 
whim, leaned over and picked it up. How 
prosaic! How common-place! 

At the end of the field Parsons stopped 
the cattle for a moment "to let them blow/' 
and busied himself meanwhile brushing away 
the "greenheads" that they might rest free 
from the attacks of these murderous pests, for 
he was a humane and merciful man, was Par- 
sons. For the remainder of the afternoon he 
carried the cottonwood switch and, whenever 
a stop was made, employed it vigorously in 
brushing the flies. When he left the field that 
night he brought the switch with him and 
threw it down in the barnyard. Here the Glea- 
son boys, Audery and Luther, found it and 



308 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

had great fun chasing each other with it. Lat- 
er, they straddled it and rode it about the yard 
and youthful imagination invested the cotton- 
wood switch with all the realty of a prancing 
steed. That night the cottonwood laid out 
under the stars in the backyard of the Gleason 
home, just where the boys dropped it root' 
trunk, branch and all above ground, a thing 
forlorn, abandoned, yet holding tenaciously to 
a spark of life. 

The following morning, by what fortunate 
chance, by whose suggestion is not now re- 
called, the diminutive cottonwood, a wreck of 
its former self, ragged and bedraggled, shorn 
of the trim grace and beauty of twenty-four 
hours ago, was planted in the yard just where 
it stands today. Ralph Parsons dug the hole 
and sifted the soil lightly above the roots, 
while the boys, moved to unusual activity by 
Parsons's glowing optimism, which pictured 
this runt of a tree as a great, great big one 
some day, fairly wore themselves out hauling 
water with which they deluged it that first 
day it came to live in Gleason's backyard. It 
was an interested and loving service that Par- 
sons and the boys extended in their efforts to 
save the tree, but, for a space, it seemed like 
labor expended in vain. The cottonwood hesi- 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 309 

tated and drooped and the larger leaves gradu- 
ally assumed a jaundiced appearance, where- 
at Ralph Parsons would feel of them, much as 
a physician feels of a patient's pulse, and 
shake his head gravely when, by the mere 
touch, the leaf detached from the limb. Some 
weeks later it was decided that an operation 
was necessary, so four of the primary 
branches were cut off. Little by little the tree 
perked up and rounded to, and by fall gave evi- 
dence that the life-current had been re-estab- 
lished, and among the youngsters of the Glea- 
son household there was great joy in conse- 
quence. 

The following year and the next, and the 
next year after that, this cottonwood waif did 
marvelously well, and assumed the propor- 
tions of a tree whose top was especially shape- 
ly and symmetrical. Where it stood in the 
backyard there was now a generous splash of 
shade where formerly the afternoon sun 
burned fiercely. And here, for a brief noon- 
day siesta, Ralph Parsons would often betake 
himself and sit in quiet contemplation of its 
rugged strength and beauty and dream be- 
times of the strange part fate played in the 
life of a man and a cottonwood tree. If a 
stranger happened to be present then Ralph 



310 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

Parsons would relate the story of the tree, 
omitting not the slightest detail of its infantile 
biography, dwelling particularly on how it 
once served as a fly-brush, how the boys rode 
it about the yard, how it laid uncared for all 
night in the yard, and how nearly it came to 
giving up the ghost once it was planted. Ralph 
Parsons loved that tree with a deep and genu- 
ine affection that grew with the years, ex- 
panding as the tree expanded and mounted 
higher and higher. 

Ten years, and the cottonwood was a lusty 
thing, bursting with life, instinct with youth 
and grace and beauty. Twenty years, and it 
looked down from still greater heights, and 
gave promise even then that it was the pro- 
geny of giants. Thirty years, and from far off 
on the road, Ralph Parsons on his way to visit 
it, as he often did, beheld great, branching 
arms lifted high that waved a welcome to him. 
Forty years, and there were signs of adoles- 
cence, such as a tree experiences — a notice- 
able maturity of form with the life-stream still 
running strong — a dignity, a majesty, becom- 
ing, awe-inspiring, overpowering when one 
thought of its humble beginning. The great, 
out-stretched* rounded top seemed like the 
vast dome of a cathedral, and the sunshine and 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 311 

shadow of spring and summer and fall that 
sifted through the branches traced in weird 
and fanciful imagery the varying moods of 
the seasons, so that it seemed as though the 
vast spaces of this sanctuary were spread with 
colorful tapestries and rugs, rare, ancient, 
priceless ! 

Fifty years, and Ralph Parsons from his 
faraway home in Nebraska, wrote now and 
then to friends in the near neighborhood of 
the cottonwood tree, eager for some word of it. 
And these friends to whom he appealed, know- 
ing his peculiar veneration for the tree, would 
write in answer, briefly but reassuringly: 
"It's bigger than ever and going strong I" 

Sixty years, and one day Ralph Parsons, 
bowed of form, slow of step and with hair as 
white as the virgin snow, appeared at the 
home of a friend in Aroma Park. Though for 
him the sands of life were running low and a 
thousand miles had intervened, he hungered 
for one last communion with this old cotton- 
wood tree which had figured so prominently 
in his life and his thoughts that it had become 
an obsession. There ares men still living who 
accompanied Ralph Parsons to the spot on the 
Payne farm that memorable morning. Vainly 



312 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

they try to tell you of the mingled expressions 
of awe and reverence that shone in his thin, 
pale face, as the rugged lines of this prairie 
giant loomed before him crowned with all the 
glory of its summer verdure. Ralph Parsons, 
a man with the soul of a poet, was a man of 
peculiar moods as his neighbors knew, and 
there was a moment of hushed silence, a con- 
straint that became in a way irksome as he 
walked into the tree's far-flung shadow and 
doffed his hat as though its precincts were 
like unto a holy place. Ah, it was indeed a 
holy place for Ralph Parsons. Here, in the 
very heart of this living thing, were enshrined 
memories of his youth, and as he stood there 
two thin, gaunt arms reached outward and 
upward towards the massive form of the Cot- 
tonwood, and tears rained down his rugged 
cheeks, and for many minutes he stood thus 
and no word was spoken. It was an awkward 
moment for the friends who had accompanied 
Ralph Parsons on this friendly mission but, 
they remembered, Ralph always was odd in a 
way. These men have said that no word was 
spoken but, again, they did not understand. 
The voice of the Infinite spoke to Ralph Par- 
sons from the high altar of "The Cathedral of 
the Prairie" — "Peace. to thee, friend! Blessed 



AND ALONG THE KANKAKEE 313 

is he who thus reared a temple to the Most 
High!" 

Seventy years, and Ralph Parsons had 
long been summoned to his reward. He did 
not long survive his trip. But the cotton- 
wood, with its life-stream still mounting high, 
waxed in strength and stature so that the 
afternoon sun, dropping down from the zenith 
to the west, causes the tree's huge shadow to 
creep eastward, unfolding like a living thing 
over the road, down the river bank and far 
out onto the limpid surface of the Kankakee. 
Eighty years, and it still stands, a mighty 
thing nurtured by those mysterious, unseen 
forces, that dominate the realm of nature. Its 
top has a sweep of an hundred feet; its pri- 
mary branches have attained the dimensions 
of venerable forest trees ; its sturdy trunk has 
a girth of fifteen feet seven inches, and where 
the main roots reach out to grip mother earth 
there it has a girth of eighteen feet ! There is 
a virility beneath the rugged exterior that pro- 
claims a destiny unfulfilled by many decades. 
It is sound to the core! It has neither spot 
nor blemish! Jove's thunderbolts, as if by 
some definitely ordered plan, have spared it, 
lo, these many years, and the fierce winds and 
storms of summer and winter have wrestled 



314 TALES OF AN OLD BORDER TOWN 

with it in vain. Even the destructive sleet 
storms have left its symmetry unmarred. It 
still looms in unwonted majesty and beauty, 
the most striking land-mark in all the country 
roundabout, this Cottonwood slip which a man 
rescued on the prairie on an afternoon in the 
long ago, when the world was new! To all 
men who view it, it is a living example of the 
truth as proclaimed by the poet — 

"God asks so little, and gives so much 
When a man plants a tree!"